Berlin – Manchester United were forced to endure a season without Champions League football last year but now wish to return to Europe’s elite competition by defeating Club Brugge in a play-off.
Lazio meet Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday and Valencia take on Monaco on Wednesday in two of the other most intriguing ties as teams eye entry into the money-spinning group phase.
The three-time European champions United host the Belgians in the first-leg on Tuesday and are under no illusions as to what it would mean to progress.
“What we have to gain is very important, but you approach both matches as any other games,’’ United vice-captain Michael Carrick told the club’s official website.
“We want to win on Tuesday and not concede. Hopefully we can get a good start and take a lead to their place. We’ll be ready. These two games can set up our season.’’
Manager Louis van Gaal has no new injury worries with Phil Jones the only man on the sidelines.
David De Gea, linked with a move to Real Madrid, is likely to miss out again but Van Gaal was buoyed by his side’s second successive win to start the Premier League season.
“I think when you win two times then you shall have a lot of confidence,’’ he said.
“But every match is difficult and Belgian teams can play very compactly, they can defend and a team always has a chance of winning. Every team has a chance and if they score out of that chance then it shall be very difficult.’’
Lazio are seeking a return to the Champions League for the first time since 2007 but go into the play-offs looking to get over an unconvincing pre-season phase. They lost 2-0 to Juventus in the Italian Super Cup match on Aug. 8.
“We are confident about Tuesday’s game,’’ said Brazil forward Felipe Anderson,
“We know the strength of Bayer, but we play at home and we are aware of our means.’’
Coach Stefano Pioli is likely to field German veteran Miroslav Klose as main striker as Serb Filip Djordjevic is out with injury, while goalkeeper Federico Marchetti last week broke two ribs during a training match and should give way to Albanian Etrit Berisha.
Leverkusen travelled to the Italian capital with Lars Bender in their squad despite concern over the midfielder who was substituted with a back injury during Saturday’s Bundesliga win over Hoffenheim.
Regulars in the Champions League, Leverkusen have previously played four play-off ties and have advanced to the group stage on every occasion.
“We have fought really hard for a year now and worked hard to come into the Champions League,’’ Leverkusen sport director Rudi Voeller said.
“Lazio is a good team, it will be a clash of equals.’’
Valencia will be without key defender Nicolas Otamendi for their home leg against Monaco.
The Argentine has not trained for several days because he is poised to join Manchester City, for a reported fee of 40 million euros (44.5 million dollars) – money that heavily indebted Valencia badly need.
“We should forget all about the transfer market, about who is coming and who is going,” said striker Rodrigo Moreno.
“What we have to concentrate on is scoring one or two goals, without conceding any at all. It is a really important match for us, and the backing of the fans will be vital.”
Other fixtures on Tuesday are Astana v Apoel, BATE v Partizan Belgrade and Sporting Lisbon v CSKA Moscow.
On Wednesday Rapid Vienna welcome Shakhtar Donetsk, Skenderbeu host Dinamo Zagreb, Malmo go to Celtic and Basel are at home to Maccabi Tel Aviv. (dpa/NAN)