Thursday 22 March 2018

Ferguson tells his side to 'wake up' to Bilbao threat

ALEX FERGUSON has warned his side they must be alert tonight when they take on Athletic Bilbao or risk another Basel-like debacle.

The United boss has blamed his team selection and his side's complacency for their Champions League exit and he doesn't want to repeat that in the Europa League.

Ferguson accepts his side never recovered from tossing away a two-goal lead against Swiss outfit FC Basel, a further home draw with Benfica helping to condemn them to a group stage exit for the first time since 2005.

But United have found it no easier in the Europa League, where they almost contrived to get knocked out despite at one stage boasting a three-goal aggregate lead to Ajax.

The Red Devils chief accepts if his side want to prolong their stay in the competition, they must do better, especially as they are now facing a team that is fighting for Champions League football.

"It is a game in which we need to waken up," said Ferguson.

"I will be playing a strong team and hopefully that makes a difference because it is going to be a very difficult game."

Ferguson is looking forward to locking horns with Marcelo Bielsa for the first time at Old Trafford tonight, aware that the wily South American has produced the best Athletic Bilbao side in years.

Manchester United entertain a team currently fifth in La Liga, who have also booked a Copa del Rey final appearance against Barcelona in addition to their Europa League conquests.

And for that Ferguson believes they have to thank 56-year-old Argentinian Bielsa, who spent a decade coaching first his own country and then Chile at the 2010 World Cup.

"I admire his work because I see the emergence of a very good Bilbao side," said Ferguson.

"They are very determined and organised, with a great belief in themselves. That is the hallmark of their coach. He has instilled these qualities in his team. This is the best Athletic team I have seen for some years."

Tom Cleverley has recovered from an ankle injury and Anderson is in line to make his first start for four months after finally shrugging off a knee injury.

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