Bayer Leverkusen vMaccabi Haifa
With Manchester United looking certain to finish top, the race is on for second spot in Group F. Leverkusen, Maccabi Haifa and Olympiakos are all level in this group on three points so it promises to be an intriguing Matchday Four.
Despite beating the Israelis three weeks ago, Leverkusen coach Klaus Toppmoller has made it clear that under no circumstances will last season’s runners up be complacent tonight.
“We will pay Haifa the respect they deserve,” he said. “They played well over the weekend and will be motivated. They are coming here to cause an upset. We won’t make the mistake of underestimating our opponents.”
Leverkusen are struggling this season, firmly inside the bottom half of the Bundesliga, and struggled to beat bottom club Kaiserlautern 1-0 at the weekend, courtesy of a Thomas Bdaric’s strike.
Toppmoller also underlined the growing reputation of Maccabi’s Nigerian forward Yakubu Ayegbeni, singling him out for special praise, and as the man Leverkusen will haveto stop.
“He is already on numerous clubs’ shopping list and is extremely talented. He is very clever consideringthat he is only 19. We will certainly have to watch him,” Toppmoller revealed.
Haifa go into the game with a question mark over the fitness of international defender Alon Harazi, who is struggling to overcome a hamstring injury. Fellow defender Eric Ejiofor is definitely ruled out through suspension. Adoram Keisi and Eyal Almoshnino are competing for Nigerian Ejiofor’s vacated space.
With the exception of long term injury victim Jens Nowotny, and Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov, injured on international duty last week, Leverkusen have a clean bill of health.
Olympiakos v Manchester United
And on top of this, they have no manager. Despite being top of the division back in Greece, Panagiotis Lemonis was sacked a week after United beat Olympiakos 4-0 at Old Trafford back at the beginning of the month.
As Brazilian defender Ze Elias puts it: “Manchester United have found a good time to play us.”
The man given the daunting task of inspiring the team to a vital victory against United is 69 year-old former club scout and Olympiakos under-21 team manager, Yiannis Kollias. He has been giventhe manager’s job in a caretaker capacity until a permanent appointment is made next month, and is under no illusion to what must be achieved tonight.
“If we want to maintain any hope of qualification, we must avoid defeat,” he said.
That will be a huge task, considering United’s recent return to form. While Arsenal have been taking all the headlines at home, the Red Devils have quietly won five of their last six games, and are slowly but surely finding top gear.
They are also strolling through Group F, but Kollias does not believe that a shock win is beyond his team.
“In my opinion, Manchester are one of the best sides in the world but we have to fight for our goal,” he said.
“Like every team, Manchester have certain weaknesses and if we can hold them and stop their attacking game, we can get a result.”
The Greek side are without Ze Elias however, after he was sent off at Old Trafford, and striker Alexis Alexandris is injured. Giovanni is set to miss out too, and replaced by the exciting Ghanaian Peter Oforiquaye.
For United, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane and Rio Ferdinand are still injured and did not travel. Nicky Butt also stayed at home.
: Eleftheropoulus, Venetidis, Antzaz, Anatolakis, Amanatidis, Djordjevic, Dracena, Karambeu, Giannakopoulos, Zetterberg, Oforiquaye
Manchester United: Barthez, G.Neville, O’Shea, Blanc, Silvestre, Beckham, P.Neville, Veron, Giggs, Scholes, Solskjaer