Manchester clubs must rally or face Europa exit

PAUL LOGOTHETIS AP Sports Writer Published:

MADRID (AP) -- Manchester rivals United and City are well clear at the top of the Premier League standings but are playing for survival in continental competition this week in the Europa League.

United is trailing 3-2 ahead of the second leg at Athletic Bilbao on Thursday. A fearless performance by the young Bilbao team in last week's first-leg encounter was a further blow to what has largely been a stuttering European campaign for United this season.

City is on home soil, where it is unbeaten in Europe in nearly four years, but needs to overturn a 1-0 loss at Sporting Lisbon last week.

Bilbao is aiming to be one of three Spanish teams through to the quarterfinals, with Atletico Madrid and Valencia both carrying two-goal advantages after dominant home wins.

Olympiakos, Twente and AZ Alkmaar all hold advantages going into their return matches.

Manchester United has lost successive European games for the first time in 16 years to follow up its exit from the Champions League.

"We have had a bad year in Europe," United manager Alex Ferguson said. "Maybe it is just one of those years where we are having to restock and assess how we should approach games at home."

Antonio Valencia returns from a four-week absence for Premier League-leading United, but injured players Nani, Anderson and Phil Jones did not travel with the team on Wednesday.

"(Bilbao) were a very attacking team, had a good team shape and at times we found them hard to break down," United midfielder Ashley Young said. "But I am sure if we are on our game 100 percent we can go there and get the win we need. Our form in general makes us believe we can score wherever we play."

Bilbao could be without Fernando Llorente after the Spain striker missed Wednesday's training ahead of the match at the San Mames, which will be filled to its 40,000-capacity. Bilbao is aiming reach the quarterfinals for the first time in 1976-77 season.

"No doubt we are going to suffer, so we're going to have to stick together and be strong," midfielder Ander Herrera said. "The best way to close out the series is to score. We'll go out looking to win from the very first minute while remembering we're playing one of the world's best clubs."

Manchester City will be bidding to rebound from its league loss on Sunday but coach Roberto Mancini squashed speculation Carlos Tevez could return for the first time since September to face the Portuguese club.

"We will see in the next week. It depends on Carlo," Mancini said pointing to next week's Chelsea match. "If Carlo is OK then probably, but it depends on a lot of things."

The depth of City's defensive stocks will be tested with Vincent Kompany (calf) set to miss out, while Joleon Lescott (groin) and right back Pablo Zabaleta (hamstring) are both doubtful.

Elsewhere, Phillip Cocu will make his PSV coaching debut by trying to rally the Dutch club back from a 4-2 deficit against Valencia and end a three-game losing streak.

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Paul Logothetis can be reached at: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP