Sir Alex Ferguson has demanded his Manchester United players “waken” from their slumbers against Athletic Bilbao tonight in order to protect their European status.
For so many years United have used their form at Old Trafford as the basis to launch deep inroads into the Champions League. This term has been very different, however.
Ferguson accepts his side never recovered from throwing away a two-goal lead against Swiss outfit Basle on matchday two, a further home draw with Benfica helping to condemn them to a group stage exit for the first time since 2005.
But United have found it no easier in the Europa League, where they almost contrived to get knocked out despite at one stage boasting a three-goal aggregate lead to Ajax.
The Red Devils chief accepts if his side want to prolong their stay in the competition, they must do better, especially as in the last 16 they are facing a team fifth in La Liga and have booked a Copa del Rey final encounter with Barcelona in addition to their conquests on the European front.
“It is a game in which we need to waken up,” said Ferguson.
“Some of our European form this season has been disappointing. I don’t know whether we are making too many changes.
“Obviously I will be playing a strong team tomorrow and hopefully that makes a difference because it is going to be a very difficult game.”
Midfield duo Tom Cleverley (ankle) and Anderson (knee) could return tonight, but Paul Scholes is likely to be rested.
Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini has fined striker Mario Balotelli a week’s wages for breaking a club curfew.
The 21-year-old accepted the punishment – believed to be around £120,000 – after being pictured outside a strip club in Liverpool in the early hours of Friday morning, contravening club regulations ahead of Saturday’s game against Bolton.
City midfielder Yaya Toure will miss City’s Europa League trip to Sporting Lisbon tonight through suspension. Defender Pablo Zabaleta (hamstring) is also out.
Tottenham survived an early scare to move one step closer to Wembley by beating Stevenage 3-1 in last night’s fifth-round replay at White Hart Lane.
The League One side started as huge underdogs but took just two minutes to take the lead through Joel Byrom, who converted from the penalty spot after being upended by Ryan Nelsen.
Jermain Defoe levelled for Spurs and the Premier League side moved into the last eight thanks to Emmanuel Adebayor’s penalty and another well-taken strike from the impressive Defoe.
Lionel Messi scored five goals as Barcelona beat Bayer Leverkusen 7-1 to complete a 10-2 aggregate win in the Champions League last night to reach the quarter-finals.
Ricardo Vaz Te grabbed a late equaliser as West Ham United were held 1-1 by Watford in the Championship. Brighton drew 2-2 with Cardiff City.