Football: Difficult decisions are grist to the mill for Graham

Mark Burton looks at the prospects for this afternoon's FA Cup semi-finals
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The Independent Online
IS IT the quality of a manager that is reflected in a successful team or is the good fortune of inheriting a crop of excellent players more important in making his reputation?

That argument has raged among football fans for years, but there are some individuals whose qualities cut right through it. George Graham is one. He inherited a bunch of relegation scrappers at White Hart Lane and within months turned those same players into Worthington Cup winners. And now, having collected their first trophy for eight years, Tottenham stand on the threshold of an FA Cup final.

Graham's team to face Leicester City at Wembley last month more or less picked themselves, with neither his new midfield anchor, Tim Sherwood, nor the former Ipswich Town left-back, Mauricio Taricco, available. For the match against Newcastle United at Old Trafford today, Graham will have done some thinking. Spurs miss Sherwood's vision and endeavour when he is not available, but to bring him in Graham would have to sacrifice the man whose diving header in injury time won the Worthington Cup. But if Allan Nielsen is hoping for sympathy, the Dane is appealing to a side of Graham's nature that he keeps hidden when making business decisions.

Taricco can probably start thinking through his pre-match routine because, with Justin Edinburgh suspended for his dismissal at Wembley, the only threat to the Argentine lies in the possibility of Andy Sinton again being asked to play out of position. But who will line up alongside him? Ramon Vega is injured and while Luke Young proved an able deputy alongside Sol Campbell earlier in the season, Roger Nilsen, an emergency deadline-day signing from Sheffield United, looked authoritative and comfortable on his debut against Newcastle in the Premiership last week, the first time Graham had seen him play.

Last week the Norwegian did not have to cope with Alan Shearer, but the England captain is sure to be back in the Magpies' attack today. His return will boost Newcastle's confidence but there are doubts over others who can be just as influential.

Duncan Ferguson did not train on Friday but it looks unlikely that the bulky, belligerent Scot would oust the outstanding Temuri Ketsbaia as Shearer's partner even if fit. More important would be the absence of either of the marauding full-backs, Didier Domi and Laurent Charvet. Domi also sat out training on Friday, and Charvet has a knee injury. Dietmar Hamann has to prove his fitness after an ankle injury kept him out of the Easter programme.

The German's absence could disrupt Newcastle's midfield but in the other semi, at Villa Park, Manchester United face a potentially more damaging adjustment to their side to face Arsenal, having to replace Henning Berg in the heart of the defence. Just as it was in the European semi-final, first leg, against Juventus, it will be one Norwegian, Ronny Johnsen, for another alongside Jaap Stam, on whom much will depend if United are to extend their unbeaten run of 21 games.

Otherwise Alex Ferguson will be able to field his first choice United side and that will mean Andy Cole partnering Dwight Yorke in attack with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on the bench.

Their opponents, by contrast, have an array of potential problems. Emmanuel Petit is suspended from midfield and, like Newcastle, Arsenal have both full-backs in doubt. Lee Dixon has an abdominal muscle strain, and Nigel Winterburn also faces a fitness test, on a hamstring.

The absence of either would mean a call for Nelson Vivas could step in for either, but both should come through to flank Tony Adams and Martin Keown in the back four that George Graham built in his Arsenal days. How he would love a reunion at Wembley next month.

Probable line-ups

Irwin

Giggs

Parlour

Dixon

Johnsen

Scholes

Yorke

Anelka

Vieira

Keown

Seaman

Schmeichel

Stam

Keane

Bergkamp

Vivas

Adams

G Neville

Beckham

Overmars

Winterburn

Cole

Kick-off: 12.30. TV: Sky Sports 2 Referee: David Elleray

Probable line-ups

Domi

Maric

Anderton

Carr

Ketsbaia

Dabizas

Speed

Iversen

Campbell

Given

Sherwood

Walker

Howey

Shearer

Ferdinand

Freund

Young

Charvet

Solano

Ginola

Taricco

Kick-off: 3.0. TV: ITV Referee: Paul Durkin

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