Manchester clubs must rally or face Europa exit

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LONDON — Manchester rivals United and City are well clear at the top of the Premier League standings, but are playing for survival in continental competition this week in the Europa League.

United are trailing 3-2 and away at Athletic Bilbao today. A fearless performance by the young Bilbao team in last week’s first-leg encounter was a further blow to what has largely been a stuttering European campaign for United this season.

City are on home soil, where they are unbeaten in Europe in nearly four years, but need to overturn a 1-0 loss at Sporting Lisbon last week.

Bilbao are aiming to be one of three Spanish teams through to the quarter-finals, with Atletico Madrid and Valencia both carrying two-goal advantages after dominant home wins.

Olympiakos, Twente and AZ Alkmaar all hold advantages going into their return matches.

Manchester United has lost successive European games for the first time in 16 years to follow up its exit from the Champions League.

“We have had a bad year in Europe,” United manager Alex Ferguson said.

“Maybe it is just one of those years where we are having to restock and assess how we should approach games at home.”

Nani, Anderson (hamstring), Antonio Valencia (hamstring) and Tom Cleverley (ankle) are all in doubt for the Europa League match, while even Wayne Rooney may not be risked for this match ahead of a weekend trip to Wolves for the Premier League-leading United.

Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente and playmaker Oscar de Marcos both missed training earlier this week ahead of the match at the San Mames, which will be at its 40 000-capacity.

Manchester City will be bidding to rebound from its league loss on Sunday and there’s speculation Carlos Tevez will return to face the Portuguese club.

“I have always been a big fan of Tevez. I love him,” City full-back Micah Richards said.

“There were games last season where he carried us on his own and in these sort of games he would get a 1-0 win for us. It’s up to the manager ultimately, but I would love to see him back.”

The depth of City’s defensive stocks will be tested with Vincent Kompany (calf) set to miss out, while Joleon Lescott (groin) and right-back Pablo Zabaleta (hamstring) both doubtful.

Elsewhere, Phillip Cocu will make his PSV coaching debut by trying to rally the Dutch club back from a 4-2 deficit against Valencia and end a three-game losing streak.
—Reuters