MANCHESTER, England, Reuters
Manchester United will be looking to stretch their winning streak to seven successive matches when they face Greek opponents Panathinaikos in the opening match of the second phase of the Champions League at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
It will be only the second time in 44 years that United have met Greek opponents in Europe. The previous occasion was in the first round of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1991-92 when United, the holders of the trophy, drew 0-0 with Athinaikos in Greece before beating them 2-0 at home.
United have been playing well recently, and their 1-0 win at Manchester City in the premier league on Saturday was their sixth win on the trot and enabled them to open up a five-point lead at the top of the table.
Coach Sir Alex Ferguson will be back on the sidelines after missing Saturday’s game as he was attending the wedding of his eldest son in Cape Town, and United will also welcome back Ryan Giggs who failed to start United’s past two games with a hamstring problem.
Paul Scholes returns to European action after missing the win over Dynamo Kiev because of a suspension but there is a doubt over striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Ronny Johnsen should be fit after a knee problem but Andy Cole, Jaap Stam and Jesper Bloomqvist are all long term injury victims.
United were bolstered by a confidence boosting 1-0 win over City at Maine Road on Saturday and defender Denis Irwin said: “That was a good win for us but we have to forget that and make sure we get off to the best possible start in this group stage.
“Last time round it was our home form that made sure we qualified so we have to keep that up.”
Panathinaikos will be hoping that their strong away form continues at Old Trafford. Juventus are the only team to score more than one goal against them on their travels in Europe and they come into the match off the back of an encouraging weekend draw at PAOK Salonika.
But Portugal international Paulo Sousa is back on the treatment table and expected to be out for at least another three to four weeks.
The absence of the experienced former Juventus and Borussia Dortmund star leaves a hole in midfield likely to be filled by Argentine import Fernando Galetto. The absence of the Athens club’s record signing Sousa could prove crucial as it was his goal and first half performance that Panathinaikos on their way to a famous victory over Juventus in the previous round.
Croatian international Daniel Saric is the only other key absence and should be replaced by Peruvian international Percy Olivares.
Coach Angelos Anastasidis’ main problem has been goal scoring with Greek international striker Nikos Liberopoulos without a goal drought stretching back to the qualifying rounds of the competition.
The remarkable Polish veteran striker Krzysztof Warzycha is likely to carry the main threat as the 37-year-old looks to continue his scoring form in the competition.