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United hoping to clinch top spot

Shakhtar Donetsk's players celebrate a goal against Chelsea-1395728In recent seasons, United have turned to the Premier League for solace after experiencing disappointment in Europe. This season, however, things have taken the opposite course as United have secured qualification to the round of 16 with a game to spare and a draw against Shakthar Donetsk tomorrow will secure top spot in Group A.

Considering the abysmal form the Reds have shown against Everton and Newcastle as they suffered back-to-back home defeats in the Premier League for the first time since the 2001-02 season, Tuesday night represents a timely opportunity to forget, albeit momentarily, about the league, while at the same time making things slightly easier ahead of February.

David Moyes is well aware of the need to win the group, thus avoiding the possibility of being pitted against the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid and having secured qualification in spectacular fashion with a resounding 5-0 win at Leverkusen on matchday four, United can’t afford to slip up at home.

“It’s important to [finish top &] give ourselves the best possible chance in the next round,” said Moyes in yesterday’s press conference, during which the United manager also claimed that the defeat against Newcastle¬†“raised my spirits… made me more determined to make sure I make it better.”

United arrive at tomorrow’s clash with their confidence shot and injury concerns, given that Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Chris Smalling could join Michael Carrick on the sideline, while Wayne Rooney is expected to return to the starting line-up after missing out against Newcastle through suspension.

Shinji Kagawa could also be involved and it’ll be interesting to see which partnership will Moyes opt for in the middle of the park, where Tom Cleverley is running out of chances at an alarmingly quick pace, while Marouane Fellaini remains an unsolved enigma, three months on since arriving from Everton.

The Belgian produced arguably one of his best performances of the season – which, admittedly, is hardly a ringing endorsement, considering some of his displays – against Everton on Wednesday night, but he wasn’t even included in the match squad against Newcastle.

Moyes admitted that the midfield is one is major concerns. “It’s tough, we are expected to win all the games – we would like to pass the ball better and create more chances,” said the United manager yesterday when asked if United’s poor form in front of goal worried him.

The Reds have scored a mere eight goals at home in the league this season and have failed to find the net in the last two home games, but have scored in 13 of their last 14 Champions League fixtures at Old Trafford and are unbeaten against Ukrainian oppositions in the competition, while Shakthar have never won in England in European football’s elite tournament.

Mircea Lucescu’s men however, are more than capable to cause United problems, as they showed in Ukraine in September, when United were pegged back by a late equaliser, and will be looking to become the latest team to snatch three points at Old Trafford which, lately, has becoming increasingly easy.

Moyes has assumed full responsibility after Saturday’s defeat, it’s time for the players to take some too beginning with a convincing showing tomorrow.

Dan