City and United flex Europa League muscle


Given the strains of a Premier League title race, both Manchester City and Manchester United could have been forgiven for treating the Europa League with derision, not least because of their prime time slots of Channel Five and ITV4 respectively.

Coupled with the fact that both sides dropped down from the Champions League group stage, messieurs Roberto Mancini and Sir Alex Ferguson could have dismissed the tournament as the second-rate European competition that it's largely derided as.

Instead, in both sides' team selection, and respective performances, onlookers were instead treated to the Manchester pair setting out in ruthless fashion in the Europa League.

While the move comes as a boost to UEFA, who will have feared having their second class competition undermined yet again by English clubs, the pair are on collision course for the showcase final in Bucharest.

City, who recalled Yaya Toure to their side despite his recent exploits in the Africa Cup of Nations, showed the type of patience and assurance on the ball that might have done them well during their Champions League campaign.

After spurning a number of opportunities to take the lead against Porto, and then seeing the Portuguese champions hit the front, City, who so often have frozen when going behind, kept their heads.

They caught a break after the interval, through Alvaro Pereira's own goal, and then snatched a late winner; the ideal formula to success on the continent.

Given Mancini's education in Italian football in the 90s, an era in Serie 'A' synonymous for its cautious style of play, you'd have thought the 47-year-old would be well versed in how to approach a tough looking European away tie. Against the cream of the crop, it's taken one high-profile exit for him to learn.

Like many City fans, United's following will be wondering why it took until the last 32 of the Europa League for Ferguson to field a team worthy of the challenge that presented itself.

The 70-year-old has already admitted he could have taken the group stage more seriously, but against Ajax on Thursday night, the Scot showed no remorse in his team selection.

Furthermore, performances from many of United's first-team players suggests that while their Champions League campaign was littered with errors and uncanny showings, their campaign in the Europa League may have a touch more professionalism about it.

While the pair add a certain gravitas to a competition that has a reputation for regularly underwhelming, it does give a one-sided nature to it. Kept apart in the subsequent quarter-final and semi-final draw, and there's little doubt it'll be an all Manchester final.

If the ominous signs weren't there in each side's team selection, then the way both dispatched, bar them, the two strongest teams remaining away from home, is proof neither Mancini nor Ferguson are prepared to take it lightly.

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