Football: Power of the press

Norman Fox argues that success in Europe now depends on the hard and fast
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The Independent Online
Patience has always been the watchword of European football. "We must learn to be patient". Bill Shankly said it, so did Bob Paisley, Don Revie, Jock Stein and even the impatient Brian Clough.

Patience remains a virtue, but today who is it that employs power, pace and aggressive pressure at every opportunity? The best of the Continentals, especially the rebuilt Juventus, who meet Manchester United at Old Trafford on Wednesday still gleaming from their 5-0 rout of Rapid Vienna on the night United's 40-year home European unbeaten record was ended by Fenerbahce. Whether Juve will be in such rude good health after meeting Milan in Serie A today, time will tell, but the omens are with them. Their in-house revolution seems to have succeeded.

Ferguson says he wants the fans to "create a real European atmosphere". More to the point, though, is the question of whether he will stop acting like a baffled first-time day-tripper to Calais and get his basics right, which means facing the truth that Eric Cantona is neither natural centre- forward nor born leader. The possibility of Ferguson compounding that error, and a dangerous delusion in the United camp that Fenerbahce were lucky, suggests that they could go into their toughest test neither properly prepared nor experienced enough.

There is an interesting parallel between the two clubs. Juventus themselves are far from mature as a unit and have had some upsets, but nothing like the unnerving setbacks recently inflicted on United. However, unlike the apparent trend in the Premiership, their coach, Marcello Lippi, has been busy fitting patterns to players, rather than the other way round.

Moreover, whereas United sold experienced players, and suffered accordingly, Juventus have come through the gamble of releasing Gianluca Vialli and Fabrizio Ravanelli surprisingly well. Conventional wisdom had it that champions always built on their own foundations - certainly it was so with Liverpool. And no one expected that Alen Boksic, previously only an occasional goalscorer, and Christian Vieri would be able to fill the gaps. There was also the loss of Paulo Sousa, who did so much to secure the midfield but was replaced by Zinedine Zidane.

But Lippi has worked hardest on turning the team into one that puts other sides under permanent pressure, rather than relies on smart counter-attacking.

United's visit to Turin earlier in the competition came when their confidence was a lot higher than it is now, and Juve were only just beginning to settle in their much-changed team. Yet Boksic tormented them with his speed across the width of the field and the three midfield players, Didier Deschamps, Zidane and Antonio Conte, thrust forward rather than sitting back and considering the options in the old Italian style. United thought they could squash the life out of Juventus and were mistaken.

The irony of British teams' insecurity in Europe this season is that while they have been using what was purported to be Continental-style tactics - diamond and Christmas-tree formations, five in the middle and so on - the best Continentals have been succeeding with the "old fashioned" flat back four, Juventus opting for 4-3-3 with plenty of positive, rather than lateral movement, from midfield and Alessandro Del Piero frequently cutting inside from the wing.

United, with Ryan Giggs wide, have the talent to do the same, but it will come to nothing without a centre-forward who can hold the ball while close marked - and he now plays for Chelsea.