Football: United confident before Club Brugge tie, Celtic wary of Malmo

Football: United confident before Club Brugge tie, Celtic wary of Malmo
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal
PHOTO: Reuters

PARIS - Manchester United are heavy favourites to get the better of Club Brugge in the Champions League play-offs as they look to return to the group stage after missing out last season.

United entertain last season's Belgian league runners-up in the first leg on Tuesday hoping to take control of the tie before the return in Bruges next week, and manager Louis van Gaal believes his side are ready for the challenge after winning their opening two games of the new Premier League campaign.

"Yes, I think when you win two times then you shall have a lot of confidence," said the Dutchman.

"But every match is difficult and Belgian teams can play very compactly, they can defend and a team always has a chance of winning." Club Brugge, beaten European Cup finalists in 1978, began their Belgian league campaign with a defeat to unfancied Sint-Truiden but have since started to find their feet, winning their last two home matches.

However, Michel Preud'homme's side, Europa League quarter-finalists last season, know they will be rank outsiders at Old Trafford.

"Manchester will try to make the difference in the home leg but I hope we still manage to create danger," said the 38-year-old captain Timmy Simons.

"Of course, playing at Old Trafford constitutes a real experience for us but I think we need to put it into context and do our job."

Too close to call

The draw could have been far tougher for United, who avoided being paired with last season's quarter-finalists Monaco.

The principality club will instead face Valencia, who came fourth in the Spanish top flight last season, in a tie that looks too close to call.

While Valencia are yet to play a competitive game, Monaco are already four matches into their season, although their hopes have been hit by the loss of midfielder Joao Moutinho for up to six weeks with an ankle injury suffered in Friday's 0-0 draw with Lille in Ligue 1.

Lazio, another side who could have faced United, will entertain Bayer Leverkusen in Rome with the Germans travelling fresh from starting their Bundesliga campaign by beating Hoffenheim 2-1 on Saturday.

The Serie A club, yet to play a competitive game this season, have not been in the Champions League group stage since 2007, but their preparations have been hit by injuries to goalkeeper Federico Marchetti and striker Filip Djordjevic.

The other first-leg ties in the League Route will see Sporting Lisbon host CSKA Moscow in a repeat of the 2005 UEFA Cup final won by the Russian club at the same venue and Rapid Vienna entertain Shakhtar Donetsk.

Meanwhile, Celtic's hopes of returning to the group stage after missing out a year ago face a stiff test as they entertain the Swedish champions Malmo in Glasgow in the first leg of their tie.

The Hoops, who have already won qualifiers against Stjarnan of Iceland and Qarabag of Azerbaijan, will be wary of a Malmo side who beat Rangers in the third qualifying round in 2011.

And manager Ronny Deila warned his side they will need to be less sloppy at the back than they were in the last 20 minutes of their 4-2 win against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at the weekend.

"It is a warning, of course, the players know that. But what we have to take with us is the first 70 minutes, which I thought was very good," said the Norwegian.

Elsewhere, Kazakhs Astana and Skenderbeu from Albania are bidding to become the first ever representatives from their countries to reach the Champions League group stage.

Astana are making their debut in the competition and host Cypriots APOEL, surprise quarter-finalists in 2012.

Skenderbeu are already the first Albanian side to reach the play-offs and take another step into the unknown as they host Croatians Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday.

Swiss champions Basel, who beat Liverpool en route to the last 16 last season, host Maccabi Tel Aviv of Isreal while 1966 European Cup finalists Partizan Belgrade go to Belarus to face BATE.

More about

Champions League
Your daily good stuff - AsiaOne stories delivered straight to your inbox
By signing up, you agree to our Privacy policy and Terms and Conditions.