Football: United fear falling victim to the Fenerbahce factor

Following their successful European exertions, the portents are good for the chasing pack to make some headway on the Premiership's defending champions: Phil Shaw looks at the weekend ahead, while Nick Harris (below) analyses the programme match by match.
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The Independent Online
Premature as it may be for the pretenders to Manchester United's crown to be clutching at straws, those pursuing the Premiership leaders will put their faith in the Fenerbahce factor when Alex Ferguson's side visit Bolton today.

Last autumn, four days after beating the Turkish champions in Istanbul, United were humbled 5-0 at Newcastle. They then succumbed 6-3 at Southampton, relinquished a 40-year unbeaten home record in Europe to Fenerbahce and went down at home to Chelsea, all in less than a fortnight.

A coincidence, perhaps, but the record reveals that three of United's five League defeats came on the back of exertions in Europe. Further evidence of the attritional effects of the Champions' League came when they also let West Ham and Middlesbrough snatch draws in the final 10 minutes.

While this week's 3-0 success in Slovakia did not stretch United unduly, the party did not touch down at Manchester until 2am on Thursday. Ferguson, who has often seemed to be demanding preferential treatment from the fixture- makers, is doubtless relieved that the follow-up game involves minimal travelling.

Having said that, the United manager would not have picked a derby against a team bursting to gain their inaugural victory at the Reebok Stadium. Bolton have another, powerful incentive: town pride was hurt by United's 6-0 stroll at Burnden Park 18 months ago.

Colin Todd is likely to blood Mike Whitlow, a left-back freed by Bolton as a teenager but re-signed from Leicester for pounds 500,000 yesterday. There will also be a debut for a Wanderer called Fish - Mark of that ilk - after the South African centre-back's pounds 2m move from Lazio.

Ferguson, whose strikers account for just three of United's 12 goals, could turn to the fit-again Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Teddy Sheringham, spotted in Kosice testing his recovery from a rib injury by crashing into a tackle- bag like a rugby prop, is also in the frame.

Welcome as that news will be for Glenn Hoddle, given the unavailabilty of Alan Shearer and possibly Les Ferdinand for next month's crucial World Cup qualifier in Italy, the England manager might be tempted to look in on Southampton.

Matthew Le Tissier is in the home squad for the first time since breaking an elbow in pre-season, and a spectacular re-entry might just put him in the reckoning for Rome. The other attraction is the likely return to Liverpool's attack of Robbie Fowler, who fell out of favour with Hoddle before his options began to be depleted.

Liverpool, who were embroiled in a sapping Anglo-Scottish struggle at Celtic on Tuesday, tended to win their matches after Continental combat last season, although their heaviest reverse, 3-0 at bottom-placed Blackburn Rovers, followed the 6-3 win over Swiss club Sion.

It should be pointed out, too, that Newcastle had been in Budapest prior to that epic rout of Manchester United. Now, having exceeded expectations in their triumph against Catalonia's representative XI, the Geordie national team take on the East End of London. West Ham introduce Ian Pearce against Faustino Asprilla after his pounds 2.3m move from Blackburn.

The capital's early challengers, Chelsea and Arsenal, tangle tomorrow, having endured mixed fortunes in Europe. The rival managers, Ruud Gullit and Arsene Wenger, will send out line-ups largely devoid of Englishmen. But exciting as the prospect of Gianfranco Zola and Dennis Bergkamp pulling the strings may be, Gullit's predecessor, Hoddle, would probably settle for Ian Wright emerging unscathed by controversy or injury.

Another sign of the times was the sight of Everton and Tottenham - self- elected members of the "Big Five" before Newcastle blew that conceit out of the water - scraping slender Coca-Cola Cup wins over Scunthorpe and Carlisle respectively, while supposedly lesser brethren were stepping out in Madrid and Bordeaux.

Everton contest points with Barnsley for the first time in 45 years knowing that anything less than victory would prompt severe unrest among the Goodison Park faithful. Howard Kendall knows Danny Wilson's wiles all too well from his previous job, Barnsley having embarrassed Sheffield United twice last season.

Spurs would have been in crisis had they not scored two late goals to win 3-2 against their Second Division visitors. Calls for the head of Gerry Francis, first heard during the collapse at Leicester, could surface again if they labour against Blackburn.

Yet the manager under the greatest pressure is David Pleat. Sheffield Wednesday took maximum points from the first four games a year ago, but receive Coventry lying 19th and smarting from a 2-0 defeat at Grimsby.

Aston Villa v Derby

Yorke 2 Leading scorer Sturridge, Eranio

Last season: 2-0 Powell, Hunt

Wanchope 1

Aston Villa's Yugoslav midfielder Sasa Curcic is likely to start his first match of the season, having impressed with his appearance as a second-half substitute against Bordeaux in Tuesday's 0-0 Uefa Cup tie. Simon Grayson, who was taken off against Bordeaux after falling ill, has recovered and Brian Little has an otherwise fit squad to choose from as his side go in search of their third win in a row.

Danish international Jacob Laursen will play for Derby despite having a broken nose. The defender missed the Rams' mid-week Coca-Cola Cup victory over Southend after suffering the broken nose in last week's 3-1 win over Everton but has declared himself fit. Lee Carsley should return after recovering from a dead leg, as should Stefano Eranio (hamstring) and Igor Stimac (knee). Darryl Powell, who is due for a scan on a knee injury, has been ruled out and defender Matt Carbon is out for six weeks after he damaged his Achilles in training. Derby are looking for their first away points of the season after 1-0 defeats at Blackburn and Tottenham.

Bolton v Manchester Utd

Blake 3 Leading scorer Cole, Keane

Last season: No fixture Beckham 2

South African defender Mark Fish should make his debut for Bolton after finally being granted a work permit. Mike Whitlow, signed yesterday from Leicester for pounds 500,000, could also start, helping to alleviate an injury crisis that has seen half the squad in for treatment in the past week. Alan Thompson (ankle), Gerry Taggart (hamstring) and Scott Sellars (thigh strain) are all doubtful, while Robbie Elliott (leg) and Neil Cox (hamstring) are out. John McGinlay is expected to have recovered from an Achilles strain.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United's leading goalscorer last season, is likely to be in the squad. The Norwegian striker has not played since taking a kick on his ankle during a pre-season friendly with Internazionale. Teddy Sheringham could play after recovering from cracked ribs, and Ryan Giggs may return, after missing the midweek Champions' League win against Kosice in Slovakia because of a hamstring problem. United will wait to see whether David Beckham suffers any reaction to his groin injury.

Everton v Barnsley

Stuart 2 Leading scorer Redfearn 3

Last season: No fixture

Howard Kendall names Nick Barmby in his starting line-up despite an argument between the pair last week. Barmby was on the bench when Everton lost 3-1 at Derby and was angry that he had not been called upon when striker Michael Branch was injured. Neville Southall should return in goal and Danny Williamson should have recovered from a groin strain but Gareth Farrelly is doubtful (knee). Midfielder Joe Parkinson will have another operation on his knee injury next month and is unlikely to play again until the New Year.

Barnsley manager Danny Wilson is without five potential first-team players for today's trip to Goodison after a recent spate of injuries. Andy Liddell, Nicky Eaden and Jovo Bosancic all have thigh strains. John Hendrie is still sidelined with a hamstring problem and Arjan de Zeeuw is doubtful after needing eight stitches in his knee following last weekend's defeat against Aston Villa. Goalkeeper David Watson returns to the squad after a long lay-off due to concussion and bruised kidneys and could press Lars Leese for a starting place.

Leeds v Leicester

Wallace 4 Leading scorer Heskey, Marshall Last season: 3-0 Elliott, Walsh 2

Leeds manager George Graham is set to name an unchanged side following Tuesday's 3-1 Coca-Cola Cup win over Bristol City. Winger Bruno Ribeiro is in contention for a starting place after coming on and scoring in midweek. Dutch defender Robert Molenaar has already overcome a groin strain. Winger Lee Sharpe will see a specialist at the end of next week about a pre-season knee injury which has kept him out of action so far this term. Leeds will be looking to build on last Sunday's 4-3 win over Blackburn, which ended a run of three defeats and no goals.

Leicester's Ian Marshall, who scored in the 2-1 Uefa Cup first leg defeat to Athletico Madrid on Tuesday, is hoping to play despite suffering a gash to his calf in Spain. He needed seven stitches, but has told manager Martin O'Neill that he is fit, which would mean no place at the start for Steve Claridge. Leicester captain Steve Walsh, who has lead the Foxes to fifth place in the Premiership with11 points from their first six games, is doubtful with a hamstring injury.

Sheffield Wed v Coventry

Carbone 4 Leading scorer Dublin 3

Last season: 0-0

Sheffield Wednesday, who lost 2-0 at Grimsby in the Coca-Cola Cup in midweek and are second from bottom of the Premiership, could have David Hirst back if he passes a fitness test on a calf injury. Striker Ritchie Humphreys will also have a test after being out with an ankle injury suffered in the reserves. Benito Carbone is still out, completing a three-match suspension.

Coventry City manager Gordon Strachan will delay his team selection until immediately before today's match to give more time for his strikers Dion Dublin (knee) and Darren Huckerby (ankle) to recover from injury. They were both missed during the midweek Coca-Cola Cup tie at the Second Division club Blackpool, which Coventry lost 1-0. Kyle Lightbourne and Martin Johansen, who were called upon to deputise on Tuesday, will fill in again if either of the first-choice pair fail fitness tests. Coventry, who have yet to win away from home this season, have gained all their eight points from their four home games.

Southampton v Liverpool

Davies 3 Leading scorer Owen 3

Last season: 0-1

Matthew Le Tissier may play for Southampton after making a midweek comeback. Le Tissier, recovering from a broken elbow, scored a penalty in a reserve match against Millwall on Wednesday and will most likely start on the bench. Mickey Evans and teenager Kevin Davies, who both scored in Southampton's midweek 3-1 Coca-Cola Cup win over Brentford, are likely to start up front for the Saints, although Norwegian Egil Ostenstad will have an injection on his injured ankle and then decide if he can play through the pain.

Robbie Fowler will almost certainly make his first Liverpool appearance of the season. The England striker will probably start the game on the bench, with Michael Owen, who scored in Liverpool's 2-2 Uefa Cup draw against Celtic on Tuesday, continuing up front alongside Karlheinz Riedle. Full-back Rob Jones is out with a knee problem, which should open the door for Jason McAteer's comeback. Steve Harkness, ruled out in Glasgow because of a groin strain, is doubtful.

Tottenham v Blackburn

Ferdinand 3 Leading scorer Sutton 8

Last season: 2-1

Tottenham are likely to start without Neale Fenn, who scored in the first minute and was then stretchered off during the narrow

3-2 win over Second Division club Carlisle in the Coca-Cola Cup in midweek. Gerry Francis will rely on 24-year-old Paul Mahorn and Portugese striker Jose Dominguez up front in the absence of the injured Les Ferdinand, Steff Iversen and Rory Allen. Chris Armstrong, suspended after he was sent off in a reserve match, is also unavailable, while Justin Edinburgh returns after a ban.

Blackburn's Scottish international striker Kevin Gallagher, who has scored seven goals already this season, misses today's game with flu. Long-term absentees Stuart Ripley and Chris Coleman are still out. Colin Hendry returns after he suffered a dead leg in last Sunday's defeat by Leeds and Billy McKinlay is also fit again after a groin injury. Marlon Broomes and Damien Duff, who both played in Wednesday's 6-0 win over Preston, are likely to start, along with goalkeeper Alan Fettis, who was cup-tied for the midweek fixture.

West Ham v Newcastle

Hartson 4 Leading scorer Asprilla 6

Last season: 0-0

Ian Pearce will make his West Ham debut after his pounds 2.3m move from Blackburn, playing a central defensive role alongside Rio Ferdinand and David Unsworth. The Hammers are likely to be without Paul Kitson, who strained a groin muscle in the Coca-Cola Cup defeat at Huddersfield in midweek, and John Moncur (calf strain). Iain Dowie and Frankie Lampard should deputise. Australian winger Stan Lazaridis is fit after recovering from a groin strain.

Newcastle may be without defender Alessandro Pistone, still suffering from the effects of a virus which ruled him out of Wednesday's 3-2 win over Barcelona. Stuart Pearce (hamstring) is also unlikely to play, and Alan Shearer, despite having the plaster removed from his broken ankle yesterday, will not be back for three months at least. Defender Darren Peacock is not expected to start, despite being on the bench for the past two games and coming on against Barcelona. Otherwise, Kenny Dalglish has no further injury problems and has all of Wednesday's winning squad at his disposal.

Wimbledon v C Palace

Cort 3 Leading scorer Dyer, Lombardo 2

Last season: No fixture

Steve Coppell, whose side lost 1-0 in midweek to Third Division Hull, goes into this "away" fixture at Selhurst Park (which his side shares with Wimbledon) with severe injury problems in his squad. Defender Marc Edworthy, striker Paul Warhurst and midfielder Simon Rodger are all unlikely to play. England Under-21 striker Bruce Dyer and Italian international Attilio Lombardo are doubtful. Palace, who have won two of their three away Premiership matches this season and lost all three at home, may be glad to be using the visitors' dressing room.

Wimbledon's Carl Cort is likely to renew the partnership with Efan Ekoku which helped beat Newcastle 3-1 last week. Cort played alongside fellow underling Jason Euell against Millwall in midweek, scoring twice in the 5-1 Coca-Cola Cup win, but Euell picked up an injury, which opens the way for Ekoku to return. Midfielder Robbie Earle has returned from World Cup duty with Jamaica and also looks likely to be included in Wimbledon's line-up.


Chelsea v Arsenal

Vialli 4 Leading scorer Wright 6

Last season: 0-3

Graeme Le Saux is available for Chelsea again after suspension and is likely to replace England under-21 defender Danny Granville, who scored in Thursday's 2-0 European Cup-Winners' Cup win over Slovan Bratislava. Ruud Gullit has no major injuries and the same 21-man squad to select from as in midweek.

Arsenal have striker Dennis Bergkamp and French defender Gilles Grimandi back in their squad for tomorrow's encounter at Stamford Bridge. There is a slight doubt over the fitness of French midfielder Patrick Vieira, who has a groin injury. Tony Adams will start after recovering from a rib injury. He demonstrated his fitness with a fine performance on Tuesday in Greece in the 1-0 Uefa Cup defeat against PAOK Salonika. Marc Overmars has recovered from a groin injury and should start alongside compatriot Bergkamp, who missed the European fixture due to his fear of flying. Bergkamp will replace Nicolas Anelka, who deputised for him in Greece and should retain at least a place on the bench.