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Manchester United’s TV schedule won’t be pretty viewing

By Tim Rich

Manchester United may be squirming at the thought of spending Thursday nights in the Europa League on Channel Five but they will probably have to wait until next week before finding out whether they will suffer the even greater indignity of being shunted into a Tuesday afternoon slot.

However, in confirming both they and Manchester City would be seeded for next Friday's last-32 draw, Uefa was creating a clash between the two clubs.

Competition regulations prevent any teams within a 31-mile radius of each other playing on the same day.

Effectively, this means either United or City will have to move from Thursday night or have their fixture reversed, thus losing the “advantage” of a home second leg.

The complication over kick-offs arises because Uefa is reluctant to sanction any non-Champions League game for the same time as matches in its No 1 club competition. As two last-16 first-leg ties will be scheduled for both Tuesday, February 21 and Wednesday (22nd) in the week when those Europa League second-leg encounters are scheduled, it means any switched game would probably have to take place earlier in the evening even if the Premier League's remaining two representatives, Arsenal and Chelsea, were not in action.

It is the same fate that befell Everton two years ago when they had a clash with Liverpool and were eventually ordered to play Sporting Lisbon on the Tuesday, with a 5.45pm kick-off.

However, as that was a first-leg game and both City and United should be playing second-leg matches, with the potential for extra-time and penalties, Uefa may demand an earlier start time to preserve the Champions League's exclusivity. The prospect of United having to play at such a time just heaps even more humiliation on to what Rio Ferdinand conceded was a devastating defeat against Basle.

“European nights under the lights at Old Trafford with the Champions League music coming on is what you live for,” said Ferdinand. “We have gone out early and we cannot look at anyone but ourselves.”

The situation is not nearly as serious as their failure in 2005, when they slunk back from Lisbon last in their group. Then, Chelsea were rampantly dominant, Ferguson seemed to have brought too many ordinary footballers to Old Trafford and with new owners even his closest friends in the media warned that he risked “being fired by fax from Florida”.

Instead, he and United fought back, first to win the Carling Cup in the spring of next year, which brought him time and a platform for the three straight League titles and a second European Cup.

“That's what we do at this club,” said Ferdinand. “We'll rally each other, dust ourselves down and move on to the next game. That's what makes this club so great — we don't dwell on what's gone on. We are disappointed but we have massive games coming up and we have to make sure we are in the right frame of mind to win them.

“Only a few weeks ago, you guys were predicting we were going to be champions and that doesn't change after a couple of bad nights in Europe.”

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