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Monday, September 15, 2008

Old foe fit for Villarreal

Villarreal are likely to have a former domestic rival in their ranks when European football returns to Old Trafford on Wednesday night.

Former Arsenal winger Robert Pires is preparing to face United again after proving his fitness in Villarreal's weekend victory over Deportivo La Coruna. The 34 year-old winger played the final 23 minutes as a substitute in a league match settled by Santi Cazorla Rodriguez's first-half strike.

The 1-0 win means Villarreal have made a better start to the Spanish league season than Barcelona and Real Madrid. But while Pires' team have four points from two games, he's in no doubt that Villarreal are very much the underdogs in Manchester.

"The game on Wednesday against United is a different story altogether to the Depor match," said Pires, as quoted on

"We are facing one of the best teams in Europe and it will be a very intense match.

"It can be difficult to maintain such a high level of concentration and we will have to play at the top of our game."

Pires lost four of his five matches for Arsenal at Old Trafford, including a painful 6-1 thrashing on his first visit with the Gunners in 2001.

New deal for Kuszczak

Tomasz Kuszczak has signed a two-year extension to his contract at United and thanked Sir Alex Ferguson for showing “trust and support” in his ability.

The 26-year-old goalkeeper, who is now contracted to the club until June 2012, arrived at Old Trafford in August 2006 and made his debut a month later as a substitute against Arsenal.

Tomasz told “For the club to offer me an extension when I still have two years left shows the trust and support that I have from the club and Sir Alex.

“I’m so happy as I have had a great time so far here, but there is still so much for me to prove and I want to continue working hard to ensure my position within this great team.”

Sir Alex Ferguson said the deal helps safeguard the strength of United’s goalkeeping ranks for years to come.

“We always like to sit down with all our young players as we want to look ahead and protect our future,” he told us.

“Top goalkeepers are hard to find and I believe we have three of the best here, and by securing Tomasz’s future we can consolidate our own.”

Sir Alex demands rapid recovery

Sir Alex Ferguson and his players have little choice but to pick themselves up after Saturday's 2-1 loss at Anfield. Wednesday’s Champions League Group E opener against Villarreal and Sunday’s visit to Chelsea mean United cannot afford to dwell on defeat.

The Reds are in the midst of a hugely significant week with two big four clashes and the start of United’s defence of the European crown. Losing to Liverpool was a bad start, but Sir Alex is looking for the right reaction at Old Trafford against Villarreal.

"You have to recover, that's the name of the game," said the Reds boss. "It's the Champions League and we are in a good group and I think we have a good chance of qualifying.”

As always, United’s initial target is winning home matches and taking at least a point on the road in the group stage.

"The way I look at the Champions League is to get to 10 points,” added the boss. "If you get that you know you have qualified and you can look forward to February when it really starts to kick in.”

Villarreal go into Wednesday's meeting in Manchester with a weekend win under their belts. Santi Cazorla's 27th-minute strike gave Chilean boss Manuel Pellegrini's side victory over Deportivo.

The win moves El Submarino Amarillo (The Yellow Submarine) up to sixth place in La Liga.

Ronaldo: United fans love me

Cristiano Ronaldo reckons he will get a hero’s welcome from Manchester United fans when he makes his comeback on Wednesday. The Portugal star is set to feature in the Champions League clash at home to Villarreal. It would be his first club game since he tried and failed to engineer a move to Real Madrid. The star, who has recovered from ankle surgery, said: “When I put on the shirt, I give it my all. I’m already in the history of the club. When I play the fans will love me again.” Ron has ruled out a mega-money move to Manchester City, who said they would be prepared to pay rivals United £135million. Ronaldo said: “No way do I see myself in the shirt of another Manchester team."
Paul Jiggins, The Sun