Ferdinand will captain United at the Amsterdam Stadium. Stephen Pond/EMPICS Sport

Thursday night, Channel 5: United and City begin their Europa League quests

Alex Ferguson’s side kick off in the Amsterdam Arena at 6pm, then the Premier League leaders play holders Porto.

Ajax Amsterdam v Manchester United, 6pm, 3e & Channel 5

Having failed to progress from the Champions League group stages, Manchester United find themselves in the Europe’s less glamorous club competition for the first time since 1995.

Back then, a Peter Schmeichel header in the 89th minute couldn’t prevent Alex Ferguson’s side from going out to Russian outfit Rotor Volgograd on away goals.

Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs both featured at Old Trafford that night and while the Welshman misses out with an ankle injury this evening, the recently-returned midfielder is available.

Ferguson has admitted that he got his selection policy wrong at times in Europe this season but has insisted that he plans to take this competition seriously and will field his strongest side when possible.

Rio Ferdinand will wear the armband as Patrice Evra has been allowed to remain in Manchester after what has been a strenuous week for the French full-back, and Dimitar Berbatov is also absent due to a knock he picked up in training this week.

Nani and Phil Jones do return however, and Tom Cleverley has had another week in training and could play some part.

Four-time European Cup winners Ajax are one of the biggest footballing brands United could have been paired with but the Dutch giants are only sixth in their domestic league and were comprehensively beaten by rivals Feyenoord two weeks ago.

Manager Frank De Boer, who was a member of the legendary 1995 team, must do without Theo Janssen, Gregory van der Wiel, Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, Derk Boerrigter and Andre Ooijer but influential playmaker Christian Eriksen will play.

The 20-year-old is tipped for the top and has been monitored by United as well as a host of clubs in the past, so will be desperate to show his pedigree against the Premier League champions.

I worry more about Ajax’s history than any individual in their team at this moment in time,” Ferguson said on

“I respect that history. It’s fantastic that Ajax have retained that philosophy for so many years. They play the same style, the stame system, the same tactics. It’s fantastic and I respect that.”

Ajax 16/5 Draw 5/2 Man Utd 17/20

FC Porto v Manchester City, 8.05pm, Setanta Ireland

Manchester City ended their maiden Champions League voyage in third place behind Bayern Munich and Napoli and have been drawn with current Europa League holders Porto at the last-32 stage.

Since their 1-0 win over Braga in an all-Portuguese final in Dublin, Porto have been stripped of manager Andre Villas-Boas and star player Radamel Falcao and trail Benfica by eight points in the league.

A trip to the Estadio do Dragao is never an easy proposition however, and Vitor Pereira’s team come into the game on the back of a 4-0 win over Leiria on the weekend.

Former captain Lucho Gonzalez has rejoined from Marseille and comes in but new signing Marc Janko, who made the move from FC Twente in January, is ineligible.

Brazilian striker Kleber is a major doubt but compatriot Hulk is a sure starter and will be looking to add to his tally of four goals in Europe this season.

City welcome back Kolo and Yaya Toure, who returned to the squad after the conclusion of the African Cup of Nations and Mario Balotelli is back from domestic suspension meaning Roberto Mancini has a full squad to choose from with the exception of Carlos Tevez, as he is not register to play.

“We’re playing Porto, a team used to playing in the Champions League; it’s going to be very difficult here,” Mancini said on

Usually it’s better to play the first game away but in this instance that doesn’t apply because both matches will be unpredictable.

“Porto have very good players; their wingers are very quick, they defend well – they’re certainly one of the best teams in Europe.”

Porto 13/8 Draw 23/10 Man City 13/8

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