Manchester United face a make-or-break Champions League match with Villarreal, the club’s first home fixture without their departed captain Roy Keane.

Defeat here for United combined with a home victory for Lille over Benfica would bring see Sir Alex Ferguson’s side fail to reach the knock out stages for the first time since 1996.

“A vital game for the club” was how Ferguson described it.

“We have to grab the nettle sometimes and this is an occasion where we’ve got to show what we are. I think the players have done it fantastically well – I couldn’t have been more pleased with the performance on Saturday and against Chelsea.”

“The horrible cost of managing a club for a long time is to see your great players get older,” he said referring to United’s inexperienced team tonight.

Replacing those older players has left United short of experience. “If you look at the graph of teams that win the European Cup, they are mainly very experienced teams with an average age of, say, 28-30.

“You cannot say that about our team at the moment. I don’t think we’ve got enough experience; I think that is a handicap but what you get with the young players is an incredible ability. We saw their ability in the last two games and I hope we will see that on a consistent basis because consistency is a key factor in getting a long run in European football.”

As for the visitors, coach Manuel Luis Pellegrini has suffered hugely with the loss through injury of is likely to replace Juan Roman Riquelme and Diego Forlan. Jose María Romero and Luciano Figueroa leading the line in Forlan’s absence.

“When they have been missing before, the squad have shown signs that, without directly replacing them, we can do a job and play well in their absence,” said the coach.

Pellegrini said his team now needed “to win one of our last two games” to advance to the knockout stages on their debut UEFA Champions League appearance.

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