MANCHESTER - Valencia manager Unai Emery
wore on Monday the face of a man who knows he is in possession
of something precious.
He could relax in his chair at a news conference ahead of
Tuesday's Champions League match at Manchester United knowing
that even if his team did not win Group C, they were guaranteed
to avoid big guns Real Madrid and Barcelona in the next round.
Teams cannot play clubs from their own country in the first
knockout round and while United boss Sir Alex Ferguson was desperate
to secure top spot in the group in the hope of escaping an early
meeting with the Spanish heavyweights, Emery's focus was on
He is aiming to get his own back on the English club who
beat his team 1-0 with a late goal at the Mestalla in September
and knows victory would make them group winners due to a better
"You could talk about a certain sporting on-the-field
revenge if you like," said Emery at Old Trafford where his
players trained in freezing temperatures.
"The fact we have already qualified means we can come here
with a certain calm attitude and be relaxed enough to go looking
for a victory in a calm and controlled way."
Ferguson, whose team have 13 points from five games compared
to Valencia's 10, had earlier said he would be fielding his
strongest side as "the sensible approach would be to avoid the
bigger hitters like Real Madrid and Barcelona".
Of course there are plenty of other dangerous clubs in the
competition but according to Emery the two Spanish giants are
the best and he has other reasons for wanting top spot.
"There are many reasons why we want to win the group but I
wouldn't say particularly we want to avoid certain opposition,"
"What it does, if we come to a place like this, is it sets
our stall out, almost like a warning shot to the rest of Europe.
Putting in a good performance at a club like this gives us
confidence, it's a real test for us."
Valencia's 2-0 defeat by Real at the weekend, when a harsh
second yellow card for midfielder David Albelda left them a man
down for the last 25 minutes, is still rather raw but the player
said it was time to put it behind them.
"It's time to turn the page on the match and the result in
the Bernabeu," said Albelda. "Looking back is negative, we just
have to look forward."
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