Manchester United manager David Moyes accepts his team have a big job on their hands as they seek to book a place in the Champions League last 16 tonight.
The task is straightforward. Victory over Bayer Leverkusen will be enough to confirm United’s place in the knockout phase with a game to spare. Achieving the aim will be rather more difficult, as Sami Hyypia’s men have been in outstanding form this season.
They are currently second in the Bundesliga and the only time they have failed to win at the BayArena was their draw with European champions Bayern Munich last month. Under the circumstances, it is little wonder Moyes believes the fixture represents the toughest United will face in their group.
“We have a big job to do,” he said. “Bayer Leverkusen have been in great form at home. My first feeling when I saw the group was that Shakhtar Donetsk away would be a real tough game. It did prove to be that way and we ended up with a draw there. But Leverkusen are in good shape in the group themselves. We know we are going to have a game on our hands.”
United’s problem stems from the fact they failed to overcome Real Sociedad three weeks ago. That goalless draw in Spain represents the Basque outfit’s only point in the competition. So, should United fall to their first defeat tonight and Shakhtar win, it will set up a winner-takes-all confrontation with the Ukrainian champions at Old Trafford in a fortnight.
It is not entirely a palatable prospect considering the uncertain form the Red Devils have been in. That is why Moyes could even nurse a sense of relief on the flight back to Manchester if his side manage even a share of the spoils.
“We had a great opportunity in Sociedad to pull away further but we didn’t take it,” the Scot said. “We want to try and get the work done as soon as we possibly can but if it has to go to the last game so be it.”
Moyes squad is stretched though.
The former Everton boss was already aware he would be without Marouane Fellaini following the midfielder’s red card in San Sebastian. Michael Carrick’s Achilles injury has robbed him of another senior player from his midfield ranks.
However, prior to flying to Germany, he also had to strike a pen through the names of Nemanja Vidic and Robin van Persie.
Both men missed Sunday’s draw at Cardiff, and Van Persie has not recovered from the combination of toe and groin complaints that have been plaguing him for a couple of months. Vidic was able to train in the morning. Evidently though, the Serbian is not fully over the concussion he suffered against Arsenal prior to the international break.
“They are both injured,” Moyes said. “Nemanja Vidic had concussion and Robin has a problem with his groin.
“Neither of them are long term but they are not quite ready yet.”
United suffered a scare on their arrival in Germany yesterday when they had to abort their landing at Cologne airport.
Their Monarch Airlines airbus had dropped to a height of 400 metres as it prepared to land, when the plane suddenly took off again.
A number of passengers expressed their concern and, while a stewardess initially said there had not been a problem, the captain later came onto the speakers to confirm he had been forced to abort the landing as there was another plane on the runway.
“Landed in Germany....just....I’ve only just recovered after that choppy landing!” defender Rio Ferdinand posted on Twitter.
Thankfully, the aircraft eventually landed without further incident at 1740 local time.
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