Football: Torpedo home in on depleted United

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The Independent Online
MANCHESTER UNITED play their 100th European tie at Old Trafford tonight, the first leg of a Uefa Cup tie against Torpedo Moscow. United have never lost at home, winning 37, drawing 11. Curiously Torpedo have not lost a European tie in Moscow, so the situation is, as Alex Ferguson put it, 'tricky'. United's manager is mostly concerned about team selection.

Because of Uefa regulations, he can play only three non-English and two 'assimilated' players. 'I cannot choose nine players,' was Ferguson's summing-up as he contemplates breaking up the side that has won five successive Premier League matches without conceding a goal.

He knows he is also without Robson, Parker, Sharpe and Dublin, who are ill or injured, and Paul Ince, who is suspended and been sent to bed to rest a virus. Mike Phelan is back in training after an ankle injury, and might start the match tonight.

Ferguson named four 17-year-olds from United's FA Youth Cup-winning team as possibles: Gary Neville, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Chris Casper, son of Frank, the former Burnley manager. All can play in midfield or defence and one, presumably, would replace Phelan if necessary.

He confirmed six starters: Martin, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin, Hughes and McClair. He is almost certain to add Peter Schmeichel and Ryan Giggs, and agreed that Webb, Wallace and Beardsmore will be in the squad. After that, your guess is as good as Torpedo's. The Moscow club recently sacked Valentin Ivanov, their coach for the past 25 years. They won the last two away games in their section of the Championship without qualifying for the eight-club play-off.

Ferguson last saw them live eight weeks ago, but has videos of their recent performances and said: 'By their tradition and history, the Russians are not easy opponents.' Torpedo's stadium, he described carefully as 'Old. It wouldn't pass the Taylor Report.' Meanwhile, Andrei Kanchelskis has made some discreet telephone calls to Moscow.

Ferguson was then surprised to learn that Yuri Tishkov, a left-sided attacker capped once by the CIS, who he described as Torpedo's best player, has been training with Sheffield Wednesday, so he is expecting Torpedo to know virtually all there is to know about United, except tonight's team. According to Hillsborough, keen to keep Tishkov under wraps, the player has a thigh strain and is unlikely to play.

Ferguson thought his team's 'high confidence and spirit' would bring them a lead tonight and, when asked of his priorities, was almost trapped into saying he would take each game as it comes, but came up with a twist: 'If we've got a game we're going out to win it.'

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