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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sir Alex: Let's finish the job

Sir Alex Ferguson has warned of the potential pitfalls in Wednesday’s Champions League clash with AS Roma, and says United will only make the semi finals with a performance that matches the effort and professionalism of the 2-0 win in Rome a week ago.

United suffered a minor slip in the Premier League in Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Middlesbrough. But Sir Alex will demand the Reds resume the kind of imperious form that has cleared the way for a shot at a league and European Cup double.

“We made two mistakes against Middlesbrough on Sunday,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “Uncharacteristic mistakes, I must say. But they cost us two goals.

"We need to make sure we don’t do anything silly. There are 90 minutes to get through, and the clock ticking. The clock is against Roma. They have to do something, and that may suit us.”

That may indicate a patient approach from United, but Sir Alex won’t allow his team to rely solely on two away goals from the first leg at the Stadio Olimpico.

“We have leeway, but we never take anything for granted and we’re not going to start now,” he added. “Therefore, we’re looking upon this game as the most important game of the season for us.

“We’ve got one foot in the semi final, and to get through we have to approach the game in the right fashion and go and win it. The result in Rome is not a pass into the semi final. We achieved that because we worked our socks off, the team discipline was excellent and tactically we were good. That’s the kind of performance we need on Wednesday, because it’s not an absolute certainty that we'll go through.”

Sir Alex doesn't expect Roma to spring any surprises in terms of team tactics, but knows the Giallorossi are capable of an upset even if their attack has again been blunted by absence of injured club skipper Francesco Totti.

“This is the sixth time we have played Roma in a year, and knowing Luciano Spalletti I think they will play their normal game,” he said. “I don’t think they will change anything in their approach to the match.

“We’re aware of the dangers in their team and how we can counter those dangers. We’re at home so we have to express ourselves in our own way.

“If we can get the first goal, it would take pressure off us. Knowing my team, that is what we will try to do. We will attack the best that we can and try to make sure we play our normal game. I think both teams will have their moments, but hopefully ours are enough to take us into the semi finals."

Park salutes squad strength

Ji-sung Park believes the current United squad is the strongest he's been a part of since joining the club in 2005.

At a press conference on the eve of the Roma match, the energetic midfielder enthused: "In a couple of matches we’ve changed the team around but still managed to get good results.”

Park is clearly enjoying being back in first team contention after a lengthy spell on the sidelines. When pushed on just how good he thinks the Reds are this season, the Korean wasn’t content to merely dwell on European matters.

"We can win the league as well," added Park. "We can do the double.”

Already twice a Champions League semi finalist (once with PSV Eindhoven and once with United), it seems that Park expects to repeat that feat this year and indeed better it.

Manchester United Vs. AS Roma Match Preview

LONDON, April 8 (Reuters) - Manchester United could be without defender Rio Ferdinand while AS Roma will definitely be without striker Francesco Totti when the teams meet in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday.

Roma, 2-0 down from the first leg in Italy last week, were hoping club captain Totti might recover from the thigh strain that kept him out of that match but, despite conflicting reports about his fitness, they travelled to England without him.

Mirko Vucinic, who scored with a superb dipping shot from 20 metres out in Saturday's 3-2 win over Genoa in Serie A at the weekend, will lead Roma's attack in his absence.

With United favourites to qualify, manager Alex Ferguson might rest Ferdinand after he was injured in Sunday's 2-2 Premier League draw at Middlesbrough.

Ferguson had feared the worst after watching the England defender limp off in the second half but a scan on Monday revealed he had not broken a bone in his foot, although United's medical staff did not say how long he might be out of action.

Having already lost Ferdinand's defensive partner Nemanja Vidic for at least two weeks, a serious injury to Ferdinand was the last thing Ferguson needed.

Despite United's worries at the back, it would be a major shock if they failed to advance. A year ago this week, at the same stage of the competition, United demolished Roma 7-1 at Old Trafford and the English side have never lost a home match in Europe by more than the two goals Roma require to advance.

They also beat Roma 1-0 at Old Trafford in the group stage in October this season and have not lost at home in Europe for three years.

Italy midfielder Alberto Aquilani is in Roma's squad but is a doubt after missing the Genoa game with a foot problem, while defender Matteo Ferrari is out with a knee injury.

Despite all that, Brazilian winger Rodrigo Taddei is optimistic about Roma's chances of reversing the first-leg defeat.

'I'm sure that if we play our best we can go to Old Trafford and reach the semi-finals,' Taddei, who missed last year's 7-1 drubbing after straining a muscle in the warm-up, told Sky Italia television.

'We know that it will be very difficult, but there are still 90 minutes to go and we'll play them all. Apart from the night of the seven goals, the games have always been evenly balanced between us.'

Roma regain midfielder Simone Perrotta from suspension and Brazilian defender Juan should be back in the starting line-up after returning from an ankle injury to come on as a substitute against Genoa.

One intriguing aspect of the game will be the performance of Cristiano Ronaldo, who was accused by Roma's David Pizarro of using his skills to mock Roma in the first leg.

Taddei tried to diffuse the situation by saying: 'As a Brazilian I understand Ronaldo. He does those moves even when the score is level.

'It's true that sometimes he goes too far, but football is a spectacle. With Wayne Rooney he is part of the best strike partnership in the world, they are showing this week after week in the Premier League.'

Possible teams:

Manchester United: 1-Edwin Van der Sar; 3-Patrice Evra, 6-Wes Brown, 19-Gerard Pique, 22-John O'Shea; 18-Paul Scholes, 16-Michael Carrick, 17-Nani, 11-Ryan Giggs; 10-Wayne Rooney, 7-Cristiano Ronaldo

AS Roma: 32-Doni; 2-Christian Panucci, 5-Philippe Mexes, 4-Juan, 22-Max Tonetto; 11-Rodrigo Taddei, 7-David Pizarro, 16-Daniele De Rossi, 20-Simone Perrotta, 30 Mancini; 9-Mirko Vucinic.

Mexes: Don't write us off

AS Roma defender Philippe Mexes has not given up hope of reaching the Champions League semi finals, and insists his side will come out fighting at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney have given United a commanding advantage going into the quarter final second leg tie. But, with defensive injuries a concern to United, the 2-0 scoreline is far from a guaranteed pass into the tournament's last four.

"It will be difficult having conceded two goals, but you never know what will happen in football so we are not giving up yet," Mexes told United Review ahead of the game.

"Once you lose a game, it’s over. But you go to the next one and have the chance to fight that team again.

"We started really well in the first leg and there was a feeling we could have got more from the game. But United are always a great team. They haven’t changed much from last year. They are a more compact group, very solid, hard to tackle, but also quick when they have the ball."

Mexes swapped shirts with Ronaldo after the game and was impressed with the winger's performance. And although he feels the Portuguese star is United's major threat, he picks out two other star players to be wary of.

"There is no doubt that he is the key for United," the Frenchman added. "I was very impressed with his goal. It was not a goal you’d have expected a player like Ronaldo to score. He was very brave and perhaps we underestimated how good he is in the air.

"United are lucky because they have so many other great players, like Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes. Rooney is very strong, and he and Ronaldo are a great combination."

Wes: We can't sit back

United may be in the driving seat in their Champions League quarter-final tie with AS Roma, but Wes Brown insists they will not be taking anything for granted in Wednesday's second leg clash.

Goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney have given the Reds a 2-0 lead going into the game at Old Trafford.

Brown says it's imperative the Reds don't sit back and invite pressure from Roma and believes it's vital that United score first.

"I think the first goal will shape the game and hopefully it goes our way," he told

"We’ll be approaching the game as we would any other, no matter that we’re 2-0 up. We can’t afford to sit back because if they get a goal they’re well and truly back in it.

"We’ll be looking to score first because that gives us a great chance. At the same time we can’t be gung-ho, but if we get some chances we’ll focus on putting them away."

In last season's corresponding clash, the Reds ran out 7-1 winners on the night, giving them an 8-3 victory on aggregate.

Brown fully expects the Italians to be out for revenge and maintains that United will need to be at their best to ensure they progress to the last four.

"It’ll be a difficult game and they’ll be coming here thinking they’ve still got a lot to play for," he insists.

"I think the 7-1 game will be in the minds of those Roma players who played because it’s not a nice thing to be involved in. And I’m sure they’ll be going for revenge. So everyone will have to be on their toes."

Carrick's still confident

Michael Carrick insists there’s no cause for alarm following the Reds’ 2-2 draw with Middlesbrough on Sunday.

Certain sections of the press have begun to cast doubt on United’s championship-winning credentials, yet Sir Alex’s men are still three points in front with just five games to play.

The former Spurs midfielder says the Reds tend to respond well to disappointment and is confident the squad will show similar character this time around.

“Last season we focussed a lot on bouncing back after bad results,” Carrick told

“This season we’ve managed to do the same so far. You have to remember that off days do come along and you’ll get the odd bad result, but if you can bounce back quickly it takes the pressure off and helps you regain momentum.

“You can’t get too upset about poor results, just like you can’t get carried away when you have a good win. Maybe at the end of the season we’ll look back on certain matches and see them as pivotal, but during the season you just have to stay focussed on one game at a time.

“Not so long ago we were trailing Arsenal and now we have a three-point lead. We’re determined to hang onto that.”

Rio boost for Reds

United have been boosted by the news that Rio Ferdinand could be fit to face Roma in Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final second leg at Old Trafford.

Ferdinand had limped out of Sunday's 2-2 draw at Middlesbrough, but a scan on Monday confirmed he had not suffered a broken foot as was first feared.

Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed at his pre-match press conference on Tuesday that the defender should be fit to face the Italians, although a final decision will be made on Wednesday morning.

"Rio's scan was clear and we hope to have him on Wednesday," revealed the United boss.

Gary Neville and Mikael Silvestre are also in the squad and Sir Alex confirmed one of the duo may even start the game.

Double trouble

Arsene Wenger insists Arsenal can still win the Premier and Champions League double. On the eve of tonight's Euro clash at Liverpool, he said: "I still believe we'll be champions in this league. Manchester United's result at Middlesbrough on Sunday helped a lot. If they had won, I’d have thought we couldn’t do it but now I still believe we will. We have belief we can win everywhere." The Gunners are six points behind United in their Premier battle. And they have an Anfield mountain to climb if they are to save their European dream. Arsenal managed just a 1-1 draw against the Reds in their quarter-final first-leg clash at the Emirates last week.
Phil Thomas, The Sun