Manchester United and Manchester City, riding high with 100% records in the Premier League, are turning their sights on the rest of Europe, ready to step up their goal rush in the UEFA Champions League that started Tuesday.
The two have scored 33 times between them in four league games each, with Benfica next in United’s firing line, while Napoli face the daunting task of trying to stop a rampant City, as both clubs make their Champions League debuts.
Sky’s the limit: Manchester City train ahead of their match with Napoli. Photograph by Jon Super/AP
Even the more established sides in Group A along with City— Villarreal and Bayern Munich—want to face the Manchester team bursting at the seams with expensive talent.
“The group we are in is strong,” says City manager Roberto Mancini. “It is so strong that there is a chance we could finish top and a chance we could finish in fourth position.”
His Benfica counterpart, Jorge Jesus, believes his team will do well to earn a point at home against Manchester United, for whom Wayne Rooney scored back-to-back hat-tricks, in the Group C opener. Benfica’s Argentine playmaker Pablo Aimar is the Portuguese side’s main threat to United, coach Alex Ferguson said in Lisbon, Portugal. “We know Aimar, of course, when he played for Valencia a few years ago, a talented player,” Ferguson told reporters when asked about Benfica’s most dangerous players.
The Argentine, now 31, made his Champions League debut against United, playing for Valencia in two draws with the English side in the 2000-01 season as the Spanish team made its way to a final which it lost on penalties to Bayern Munich. Aimar, who earned 52 caps for Argentina, spent six years at Valencia, lifting two La Liga titles and a UEFA Cup. He joined Benfica in 2008 and helped them win the Portuguese title for the first time in five years in 2010.
After a lacklustre 2010-11, the playmaker has been in top form this season, flourishing in a midfield partnership with Belgian arrival Axel Witsel and combative Spaniard Javi Garcia.
Ferguson also praised Benfica’s central defensive duo of Brazil’s Luisão and Argentine Ezequiel Garay, who will have the daunting task of containing a rampant Rooney. The England forward has scored back-to-back hat-tricks in Premier League games, the latest coming in the 10 September 5-0 thumping of Bolton Wanderers.
Meanwhile, Manchester United’s arch rivals Arsenal are convinced they are on the road to recovery. Assistant coach Pat Rice insisted his side has proved they are over their poor start to the season after earning a 1-1 draw at Borussia Dortmund in their opening Champions League clash in Germany.
Arsenal have struggled this season after the sale of captain Cesc Fabregas and playmaker Samir Nasri, while injuries and suspensions culminated in the humiliating 8-2 defeat at the hands of Manchester United on 28 August.
The Gunners picked up only their first Premier League win of the season on Saturday, with a 1-0 win over newly promoted Swansea. Rice insists it is just a matter of time before the new signings find their feet in England’s Premier League and the Champions League campaign.
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