MANCHESTER - Valencia manager Unai Emery wore on Monday the face of a man who knows he is in possession of something precious.
He could relax in his chair at a news conference ahead of Tuesday's Champions League match at Manchester United knowing that even if his team did not win Group C, they were guaranteed to avoid big guns Real Madrid and Barcelona in the next round.
Teams cannot play clubs from their own country in the first knockout round and while United boss Sir Alex Ferguson was desperate to secure top spot in the group in the hope of escaping an early meeting with the Spanish heavyweights, Emery's focus was on revenge.
He is aiming to get his own back on the English club who beat his team 1-0 with a late goal at the Mestalla in September and knows victory would make them group winners due to a better goal difference.
"You could talk about a certain sporting on-the-field revenge if you like," said Emery at Old Trafford where his players trained in freezing temperatures.
"The fact we have already qualified means we can come here with a certain calm attitude and be relaxed enough to go looking for a victory in a calm and controlled way."
Ferguson, whose team have 13 points from five games compared to Valencia's 10, had earlier said he would be fielding his strongest side as "the sensible approach would be to avoid the bigger hitters like Real Madrid and Barcelona".
Of course there are plenty of other dangerous clubs in the competition but according to Emery the two Spanish giants are the best and he has other reasons for wanting top spot.
"There are many reasons why we want to win the group but I wouldn't say particularly we want to avoid certain opposition," he said.
"What it does, if we come to a place like this, is it sets our stall out, almost like a warning shot to the rest of Europe. Putting in a good performance at a club like this gives us confidence, it's a real test for us."
Valencia's 2-0 defeat by Real at the weekend, when a harsh second yellow card for midfielder David Albelda left them a man down for the last 25 minutes, is still rather raw but the player said it was time to put it behind them.
"It's time to turn the page on the match and the result in the Bernabeu," said Albelda. "Looking back is negative, we just have to look forward."comments