MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Midfielder Juan Mata hailed George Best “a genius forever” as an injury-hit Manchester United aim to mark the 10th anniversary of the Northern Irishman’s death with a Champions League victory against PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday.
Best, who made 361 appearances for United and helped them win the European Cup in 1968, died on Nov. 25, 2005 at the age of 59 after a long struggle with alcoholism.
“Yesterday, I watched a documentary about his life and football career,” Spaniard Mata wrote in his weekly blog on kicca.com on Monday.
“He was one of the best players of Manchester United and one of the best in the history of football, no doubt, and also an idol for several generations that still remember him today.”
Louis van Gaal’s side could be without nine front-line players for the visit of Dutch champions PSV in Group B after defender Phil Jones (ankle) and midfielder Ander Herrera (hamstring) were injured in the Premier League win at Watford.
Striker Wayne Rooney is also a doubt after missing Saturday’s match with an illness, while 19-year-old French forward Anthony Martial has a foot injury.
United could also be without James Wilson, who injured his knee in training on Friday, while Michael Carrick damaged an ankle on England duty, Marouane Fellaini has yet to return from a calf injury and Antonio Valencia will be out until January after having surgery on a foot problem.
Old Trafford fans could be planning a hot reception for PSV’s Hector Moreno, whose sliding tackle resulted in Luke Shaw’s broken leg in United’s 2-1 away defeat in their opening match of the group in September.
United have since beaten VfL Wolfsburg and CSKA Moscow at home as well as drawing 1-1 in Moscow to lead Group B by one point from PSV and Wolfsburg.
“We could make an important step to finish first in our group in the Champions League and we could climb to the top of the Premier League. This is how we face this new week,” added Mata, referring also to Saturday’s Premier League game against leaders Leicester City.
PSV trail table-toppers Ajax by four points in the Dutch league, and manager Philip Cocu blames a lack of concentration after they squandered yet another lead before rescuing a 2-2 draw against Willem II Tilburg on Saturday.
“It is deteriorating further,” said Cocu after watching a fifth lead for PSV this season end in either a draw or defeat.
“It has happened too many times. In matches against top opposition we rise above our potential. But these kind of games are just as important. We also have to bring our motivation to these games.”
Manchester United won the last of their three European titles in 2008 and lost to Barcelona in the final in 2009 and 2011.
Last year they finished seventh in the Premier League and missed the competition for the first time since the 1995-1996 season.
(Writing by Rob Hodgetts in London; Editing by Rex Gowar)