x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Manchester clubs City and United to field their best sides for Europa League

Roberto Mancini and Alex Ferguson focused on beating Porto and Ajax respectively.

Manchester United players during a training session.
Manchester United players during a training session.

The city of Manchester were hoping to see their two football sides fight out the Champions League final but instead both sets of fans will have to make do with the lesser fare of the Europa League.

However, both face tricky ties on Thursday night if they are to progress a step closer to the final on May 9 in the mundane surroundings of Bucharest rather than the glamour of the Champions League final in Munich on May 19.

City – who finished third in a tough Champions League group behind Bayern Munich and Napoli – have to travel to the defending champions Porto in Portugal while United, who surprisingly finished below Benfica and Basel, are away at the Dutch giants Ajax.

Roberto Mancini, the City manager, said he will select a strong side to play the Portuguese champions, whose high standards of last season when they were all but unbeatable domestically and in Europe have slipped and they trail Benfica by five points in the title race.

While the Premier League title remains the Italian's top target he is also looking to win some European silverware and with City having lost out on retaining the FA Cup, the Europa League has taken on added importance.

"I will play a strong team against Porto. We want to win the Europa League because it is an important trophy," Mancini said. "We have no game next week [having been knocked out of the FA Cup] so we can concentrate fully on a good performance. It will be difficult to go through because Porto are a top team, but we want to do the best we can in this competition."

United perhaps face an easier task as they play an Ajax side a long way short of the quality that dominated Europe in the 1970s and who won the Champions League as recently as 1995.

However, Sir Alex Ferguson will still send out a top-quality side.

"I'm definitely treating it seriously," said Ferguson."The great thing about Thursday is we don't have a game next Saturday [they are also out of the FA Cup] so I can play my strongest team and will play my strongest team."