Manchester United v Athletic Bilbao: Europa League preview

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Manchester United v Athletic Bilbao; Europa League; Old Trafford; Thursday 8 March 2012; 20:05 KO

Team News

Sir Alex Ferguson is expected to field a strong line-up tonight in the first leg of Manchester United's Europa League last-16 tie against Athletic Bilbao.

The United boss is able to welcome back midfield duo Anderson and Tom Cleverley but Paul Scholes is set to miss out after not taking part in training yesterday.

Anderson has been out for two months with a knee injury while highly-rated midfielder Tom Cleverley has recovered from an ankle injury picked up in United's last Europa League encounter against Ajax.

Chris Smalling could also play some part in the tie after recovering from a head wound sustained on international duty with England but Antonio Valencia (hamstring) will miss out.

Athletic, who will play United for the first time since 1957, will be without defender Fernando Amorebieta (suspension) and injuries to Aitor Ocio, Xabi Castillo and Iban Zubiaurre mean that Spanish under-21 international Javi Martinez may be drafted into central defence.

Smalling seeks home advantage

Athletic Bilbao currently sit fifth in La Liga and go into tonight's game off the back of a 2-0 home win against Real Sociedad. They squeezed past Lokomotiv Moscow on away goals in the last round of the Europea League, with talented youngster Iker Munain scoring the crucial goal in the second leg.

But Manchester United defender Chris Smalling says his side cannot afford to take Bilbao lightly after poor performances in European competitions this season and the Red Devils will be looking to take a solid first leg lead to Spain.

Speaking to Smalling said: "We've watched some videos at Carrington today [Tuesday] and we'll watch some more tomorrow. They seem to be a very technically gifted side, one that's going to pose quite a few threats."

Smalling pinpointed Biblao winger Susaeta as a potential match-winner for the Basque side and said European matches can often be very tight affairs.

"Often when you get to this high level the games can be quite even until that one moment when someone can do something different," he added. "Those moments are the ones that separate winning from losing."

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Chris Smalling
Europa League
Manchester United

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