Ronaldo set for return in Champs League

Alex Ferguson is determined Manchester United will become the first club to defend its Champions League title.

updated: September 19, 2008 17:52 IST
  • Total Shares


Alex Ferguson is determined Manchester United will become the first club to defend its Champions League title, and what better time to reintroduce Cristiano Ronaldo after ankle surgery than for the start of the group stage.

It is highly likely the Portugal winger, who struck 42 goals last season, will make his highly anticipated return from July's ankle surgery against Villarreal on Wednesday.

It should help the Red Devils obliterate memories of Saturday's first Premier League loss at Liverpool in seven years.

"You have to recover, that's the name of the game," Ferguson said on Sunday. "It's the Champions League and I think we are in a good group and I think we have a good chance of qualifying."

Striker Giuseppe Rossi has missed Villarreal's opening league games with a sprained left ankle and is doubtful for the return to Old Trafford.

Group E also includes the Celtic team from Ferguson's native Glasgow and Danish side Aalborg.

"The way I look at the Champions League is to get to 10 points," Ferguson said. "If you get that you know you have qualified and you can look forward to February when it really starts to kick-in."

Twenty-four hours earlier, Chelsea, which was denied the European Cup on penalty kicks in May, hosts Bordeaux at the start of a long journey to the final at AS Roma's ground. The Italians are also in Group A and meet Romanian Champions League newcomers CFR Clujnapoca.

A Champions League triumph is top of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich's priority list, and a second place wasn't enough to save former manager Avram Grant's job.

"For me, the Champions League is not more important than the Carling Cup," said new manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, referring to England's second-tier knockout competition. "It is important but it is not more important than a league game. We need to think game by game.

"If I say the Champions League is the most important then my players will ask why they need to bother in the other games."

Germany midfielder Michael Ballack is set to return from a knee injury. Bordeaux has doubts over the fitness of Brazilian defender Henrique, who bruised his thigh in Saturday's 1-1 draw against Marseille, while fullbacks Mathieu Chalme and Benoit Tremoulinas are both suspended.

Bordeaux will be looking for playmaker Yoann Gourcuff for inspiration after his acclaimed France debut over Serbia last week.

"We know that Chelsea will be favorite, but we just have to go there and give it our best," Gourcuff said. "We should not feel inhibited in any way. We just have to keep playing our own way."

It is a different story for Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez who is under more pressure to deliver the club's first English league title since 1990 than repeat his 2005 Champions League triumph.

The five-time European champion begins in Marseille with lingering concerns over the fitness of star striker Fernando Torres, who stayed on the bench for Saturday's victory over Manchester United.

"I am not reassured when I see how Liverpool played against Manchester," Marseille coach Eric Gerets said. "That was impressive."

The Reds took just one point from its first three group stage matches last season, but recovered to seal its progression to an eventual semifinal finish with a 4-0 victory at Marseille.

Atletico Madrid should have strikers Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan fully recovered after the international break for tomorrow's other Group D meeting with PSV, which is the Spaniards' first Champions League match since 1996.

Preparing to host Sporting Lisbon tomorrow, Barcelona's morale was hit by Saturday's 1-1 draw against Racing Santander.

The team's worst start to a season since 1973 has piled the pressure on inexperienced coach Pep Guardiola, who is now without midfielder Alexander Hleb for three weeks after spraining his left ankle Saturday.

Basle and Shakhtar Donetsk are the other teams in Group C.

Jose Mourinho begins his quest to repeat his 2004 triumph with FC Porto at Panathinaikos with his new Inter Milan side tomorrow in Group B, which also features Werder Bremen and Cypriot newcomer Anorthosis Famagusta.

Real Madrid coach Bernd Schuster is hopeful of steering the nine-time champion beyond the last 16 of the Champions League after its failure to so in the past four years.

In the other Group H clash, UEFA Cup winner Zenit St. Petersburg travels to Juventus, which is back in Europe after a two-year absence following the Italian match-fixing scandal.

Also Wednesday in Arsenal is at Dynamo Kiev and Porto hosts Fenerbahce in Group G, while Fiorentina visits Lyon and Steaua Bucharest meets Bayern Munich in Group F.