Leverkusen baptism for Man United newcomer Moyes

imageMANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP)David Moyes will sample the Champions League group phase for the first time on Tuesday when his Manchester United side host Bayer Leverkusen in their opening Group A fixture.

Moyes was selected to succeed Alex Ferguson as United manager at the end of last season despite having only overseen two matches in the competition during his 11-year tenure at Everton.

Those games, in 2005, saw the Merseyside club beaten 4-2 by Villarreal over two legs in the third qualifying round, but Moyes is relishing the prospect of a second bite at the apple.

“I am really excited to be involved in it,” he told United’s in-house television station, MUTV.

“I have been in the Champions League before but I have not made the group stage. I had quite a few episodes in the Europa League, which were good, but nothing at the level of the Champions League.
“We will do our homework to make sure we are as prepared as we can be.”

United are the only genuine European heavyweights in the group, but with Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Sociedad making up the pool, there is not a weak team in Group A either.

Moyes says that although things could have been better, they could also have been a lot worse.

“It was the first time I have been involved in a draw at that level,” said the Scot.
“When the names came out, there were some that I didn’t want and others I would have been happy with. Relatively, I am quite pleased.

“To draw Real Sociedad out of the last pot was a tough one. They have done well in Spain this year and had a great result against Lyon to get into the group stage.
“That put a little bit of a downer on it. In addition, Leverkusen are doing well in Germany and we also have the long trip to Donetsk.”

Leverkusen finished third in the Bundesliga last season and have won four of their first five games this term, with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich the only sides above them in the table.

Their last Champions League experience ended in humiliation, however, with a 10-2 aggregate defeat by Barcelona in the last 16 in February 2012.

Manuel Friedrich and Michal Kadlec were subsequently chastised by director of sport Rudi Voller over their eagerness to swap shirts with Lionel Messi, and manager Sami Hyypia has warned his players not to be dazzled by the limelight at Old Trafford.

“I hope my players want to play football in Manchester and not just get autographs from (Wayne) Rooney,” said the former Liverpool defender, who is also a group-stage novice as a coach.

Leverkusen’s defenders can expect to see plenty of Rooney on Tuesday, the England striker having returned from a head injury to score a late free-kick in Saturday’s 2-0 home win over Crystal Palace.

Moyes will be without Nani, however, as the Portuguese winger is suspended due to the controversial red card he was shown when United were eliminated by Real Madrid last season.

United also have defenders Rafael da Silva and Phil Jones unavailable due to injury, whereas Hyypia reported no new injury problems after his side’s 3-1 defeat of Wolfsburg at the weekend.

It is 11 years since Leverkusen stunned United in the Champions League semi-finals, before losing to Real Madrid in the final, and striker Stefan Kiessling knows a sizeable effort will be required to pull off a similar result.

“This is a huge event for us, but we have to give it our all for 90 minutes,” said the Germany striker, who scored twice against Wolfsburg.

Tuesday’s game will mark United’s first European fixture without Ferguson in the dug-out since a quarter-final defeat by Hungarians FC Videoton in the UEFA Cup in March 1985.

Their home form in Ferguson’s later years left a lot to be desired, however, and Moyes will hope to improve a record of only three wins in nine European fixtures.