Glenn Moore believes his absence could be crucial.
Manchester United learned long ago that, to borrow a phrase from down the East Lancs Road, "money can't buy love". Yesterday, like many a millionaire, they were reminded that it cannot buy health and luck either.
Barely hours after the club revealed record profits of pounds 27m last year, United were forced to admit that their inspirational captain, Roy Keane, is very unlikely to play in tonight's Champions' League match against Juventus at Old Trafford.
Keane looks to have paid a heavy price for apparently aiming a kick at Alf-Inge Haland of Leeds on Saturday. Having fallen awkwardly, his right knee has become swollen and, according to his manager, Alex Ferguson, "he is very doubtful". The feeling is he is more than doubtful and there are fears that the injury could be serious.
The timing could hardly be worse. United did achieve some significant results without Keane last season, but not against teams with the quality of Juventus. Although Ferguson's options are increased by the return to fitness of Nicky Butt and Ryan Giggs they are likely to be short of experience for the crucial midfield contest with Zinedine Zidane and Didier Deschamps. Ronnie Johnsen, having only completed his first 36 minutes' action this season as a substitute at Leeds, is unlikely to start.
"It is a blow, but not a massive blow," Ferguson insisted. "We have other players who can come in and we have won without him before. It will be important to get the midfield right. Juventus are very powerful."
This is not United's only problem area. Injuries have prevented Ferguson finding an established attacking partnership; Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Paul Scholes and Jordi Cruyff have all been tried. "We have not had continuity," Ferguson said. "Teddy would have liked to have been able to play regularly with someone. His injury came at a bad time. We have to score tomorrow.If we do we have a great chance."
Having conceded just four goals all season, you would have thought Ferguson would at least feel consoled by the form of his defence. Not at all. "We've made a few errors there recently," he said.
Not that Juventus are in perfect shape. Angelo Di Livio is suspended and they arrive fresh from a fortunate draw at Sampdoria. They remain, however, the ultimate test for United. Borussia Dortmund defeated the Italian champions in last year's European Cup final but, for Ferguson, Juventus are still Europe's best. "We are underdogs which is unusual but fair enough," Ferguson said. "They are at the level we want to reach. That's my ambition.
"It's remarkable how Marcello Lippi keeps changing his forwards. Two years ago he won the European Cup, then sold his strikers at a profit and bought new ones. Last year he reached the final and won the Italian league and sold his strikers at a profit. This year he's got two more good ones. My chairman would love him."
The heirs to Ravanelli and Vialli, and Vieri and Boksic, are Alessandro Del Piero and Filipo Inghazi. "He's replaced two powerful strikers with two very quick ones," Ferguson added.
The Italians are not short of return compliments. "They are the supreme example of English football and are probably the most creative side in England," Lippi said. "Old Trafford is a wonderful stadium and the atmosphere will be electric."
Ciro Ferrara, the Italian international centre-half, added: "They will miss Eric Cantona, but we must not forget he was supported by a great team. Manchester United are superb on the wings with great forwards, especially Sheringham. Though I could be marking him in Rome, comparisons between Juventus and Italy don't work. Tactically they are very different teams."
All the same, it would be a considerable lift if United could strike a pre-emptive blow for England.
Manchester United (probable): Schmeichel; G Neville, Berg, Pallister, Irwin; Beckham, Butt, Scholes, Giggs; Sheringham, Solskjaer.
Juventus (probable): Perruzzi; Birindelli, Ferrara, Montero, Dimas; Pecchia, Deschamps, Zidane, Tacchinardi; Del Piero, Inzaghi.Reuse content