Van der Sar eyes top spot benefits in Champions League
06 December 2010 10:23
Edwin van der Sar has stressed the importance of United finishing on top of their Champions League group in order to avoid Europe's heavyweights in the first knockout round. United entertain Valencia at Old Trafford on Tuesday night with their place in the last 16 already confirmed. Yet there is still one more task left; collecting the single point that would allow them to finish at the head of Group C, thus avoiding Barcelona and Real Madrid in the last 16. And, while United tend not to express concern about beating anyone, Van der Sar feels their chances of progress would be better served by taking a route to Wembley next May that avoids the Spanish giants. "It is quite clear," said the veteran Dutchman. "We are through now but we want to get top spot in order to avoid any of the bigger teams in the earlier rounds. "That is what we need to do against Valencia." Sir Alex Ferguson's men can certainly approach their mission with confidence. After being held in their opening match by Rangers, United have reeled off four successive wins and are still to concede a goal. Victory in Valencia was achieved in September thanks to Javier Hernandez's impressive late strike, since when clean sheets have been completed home and away against Bursaspor and in Glasgow a fortnight ago when Rangers found no way past. Completing an entire qualification group without conceding would represent a record, which Van der Sar is quite pleased about, even if he acknowledges stiffer tests await. "So far we have not played against the biggest teams in the Champions League. Maybe that has something to do with it," he said. "When you start playing a higher standard of opposition it is going to become more difficult." United may head into the contest with a stronger team than seemed likely following the postponement of Saturday's Premier League trip to Blackpool. As his side are not in action again until next Monday, when they face new leaders Arsenal in an eagerly-awaited clash of the top two, Ferguson could well view the Valencia game as an essential part of the preparation for his senior players. Dimitar Berbatov is one of a significant number, which also includes Van der Sar and Wayne Rooney, who have not featured since they slammed seven past Blackburn and Ferguson will probably be dubious about the merits of giving them a second week off before facing Arsene Wenger's men at Old Trafford. Which team would you send out against Valencia? Have your say.