Manchester United looking to end Spain jinx

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Manchester United looking to end Spain jinx

MADRID - Manchester United look to end their miserable European record in Spain today as they search for their first Champions League win of the season at Spanish league leaders Valencia.

United has won just once in 18 matches in Spain against Spanish opposition, with their only win coming in the 2001-02 Champions League quarterfinal first leg at Deportivo La Coruna. They will have their work cut out for them against unbeaten Valencia, which has won four out of its first five league matches to top the Spanish top flight.

United coach Sir Alex Ferguson watched his side labor to a 0-0 draw against the Rangers in their Group C opener and will hope for a more attacking bite at Valencia, as well as more defensive stability than they have shown of late. The three-time European champions have conceded seven goals in their last three league matches and will be well aware that Valencia trounced Bursaspor 4-0 in Turkey in their group opener.

“Yes, we’re concerned about the number of goals we have let in,” said defender Nemanja Vidic. “Over the last few years we haven’t conceded many goals. We always looked strong and we didn’t give teams many chances. But in the last few away games we haven’t kept clean sheets, which is very disappointing.”

At the other end of the pitch, United will be missing both Welsh winger Ryan Giggs and English striker Wayne Rooney, after both players sustained injuries in the 2-2 draw at Bolton Wanderers on Sunday. Giggs succumbed to a hamstring problem, while Rooney was pulled in the 61st minute after tweaking his ankle on a knock. With Antonio Valencia already out with an ankle injury, Park Ji-sung will likely earn significant playing time.

Ferguson watched Valencia live in its 1-1 home draw with Atletico Madrid five days ago and admits it is a key game for his side, knowing Valencia could go five points ahead of them with a victory.

“Drawing with Rangers makes the Valencia match far more important than it would have been,” said Ferguson.

Former England international striker Michael Owen scored the equalizer in the draw at Bolton and he could be called upon to partner with Dimitar Berbatov in Rooney’s absence.

Valencia is unbeaten in 11 European home matches and has started the season in fine form with 13 points from a possible 15 to top La Liga ahead of champions Barcelona.

Valencia, Champions League finalists in 2000 and 2001, sold Spanish World Cup stars David Silva and David Villa for 70 million euros ($94 million) in the summer but their new signings have adapted well and given the club five wins from six in all competitions.

“The players are grasping that the most important thing is the team and not the individuals and that is the key to the good start,” said Valencia coach Unai Emery.

Valencia has conceded only three goals in its six games so far and part of that is down to 39-year-old goalkeeper Cesar Sanchez, who started the 2002 Champions League final for Real Madrid before getting injured and replaced by Iker Casillas.

“We know it is not going to be an easy match since we are playing one of the favorites to become European champions,” said Cesar. “If we want to carry on moving forward and get to the last 16 we have to be strong at the Mestalla stadium,” the goalkeeper said.

Meanwhile, Lionel Messi could return for Barcelona in today’s Champions League match at Rubin Kazan with the Spanish champions determined not to repeat last year’s costly mistake of taking the Russian side too lightly.

Rubin drew 0-0 at home and then stunned Pep Guardiola’s outfit 2-1 at Camp Nou in the group stage last season.

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