Eric Bailly wants early Champions League qualification for Man United
MANCHESTER — Eric Bailly has pressed home the importance of qualifying for the Champions League round of 16 as quickly as possible ahead of Manchester United’s clash with Benfica.
Jose Mourinho’s side have a perfect record in Group A after victories over Basel, CSKA Moscow and Benfica.
They will guarantee qualification for the knockouts rounds if they defeat Benfica at Old Trafford on Tuesday and CSKA do not beat Basel in Switzerland.
And Bailly, who is fit again after a groin problem, wants United to get out of the group as early as they can.
He told a news conference on Monday: “It’s something very important — first that we win. It’s an important game, this is our fourth in the Champions League and it’s at home, and since we started we’ve not lost a single game at home and this is important for your confidence.
“I hope everything goes well and we win and qualify. This would be very important for us.”
Mourinho will be without injured duo Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini against Benfica, while Antonio Valencia and Phil Jones could get the night off with a trip to Chelsea to come in the Premier League on Sunday.
Securing qualification this week would also help Mourinho further down the line.
United travel to Basel on Nov. 22 ahead of Brighton’s trip to Old Trafford three days later. They then host CSKA on Dec. 5 before the first derby of the season against Manchester City at Old Trafford on Dec. 10.
United, City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham have all started well in their Champions League campaigns, and Bailly believes it is a sign of the Premier League’s resurgence in the competition after failing to produce a winner since Chelsea’s triumph in 2012.
He said: “We know it’s one of the best leagues and there are good teams, and they’re getting good results. It’s something important for the league, and the Premier League has always been strong.
“We have to think of ourselves and carry on this run. Right now we’re doing very well, winning games. Let’s hope this carries on.”
Rob is ESPN FC’s Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.