Football: United bent on the task of returning: Ian Ridley assesses the weekend programme in the light of dented pride

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The Independent Online
SUDDENLY the swagger is gone, the self-certainty undermined. The English game, the petrol of 1966 and the six consecutive European Cups around the turn of the 1980s running low, no longer knows what to think of itself after Rotterdam and, this week, Istanbul. Hang it, just fill up the tank and press the foot to the floor is the usual response, as the weekend's domestic programme will probably show again.

While a climate of more healthy self-analysis and criticism may be developing, it is likely to be postponed amid the speed with which games come at players and supporters at this time of year. After Galatasaray, for example, is tomorrow's gala affair at Maine Road.

United are unlikely to be allowed to let Turkish despair overcome them in the Manchester derby. Besides which, they were offered some hope, slim as it may seem, by Uefa yesterday in the light of alleged police attacks on Eric Cantona and Bryan Robson.

'The report of the referee and our delegate will be submitted to the Control and Disciplinary Committee of Uefa who are meeting next Thursday and they will decide whether or not any action needs to be taken against Galatasaray,' a Uefa spokesman said.

That said, the Champions' Cup of next season now seems more the priority for Alex Ferguson's team, and the immediate aim will be to avoid being diverted by their City neighbours, hard as that may be to imagine after West Ham's comprehensive eclipse of them last Monday. As Ferguson has said in the past, however, the main danger to his team is his team.

The two sides of the midweek identity crisis meet at Highbury, Arsenal seeking to end a run of four goalless draws in the Premiership against Aston Villa. In theory, it should be no contest, given Arsenal's goal Standard and Villa's Spanish eyeful but, as the 7-0 win in Liege showed, the Gunners are nothing if not perverse.

Another angle to the identity crisis comes at Bramall Lane where Norwich City, the other consolation club for the English game, try to inflict their passing game on long, tall Sheffield United. It might just be one pass too many for them after the emotion of midweek.

Tim Flowers, having yesterday completed a pounds 2m move to Blackburn Rovers on a 4 1/2 -year contract to take Kenny Dalglish's spending beyond pounds 20m - pounds 14.9m in the Premier - is likely to make his debut in an appealing match at Queen's Park Rangers today, though Dalglish would not confirm as much.

Dave Beasant, though, is certain to take over in the Southampton goal, after signing from Chelsea for pounds 350,000, against Tottenham, who may field Micky Hazard after his pounds 50,000 transfer from Swindon. Spurs may have to pay out more money; West Bromwich Albion yesterday pressed the FA to order them to pay compensation for Ossie Ardiles, the recruitment of whom cost them a fine of pounds 25,000.

Two other London clubs travel north with hopes of avoiding what have traditionally been beatings. Chelsea go to a leaky Leeds United seeking to arrest a run of four defeats while West Ham United have hopes of winning at Liverpool for the first time in 30 years.

'This must be West Ham's best chance for years and years of getting a win at Anfield,' their former Liverpool left-back, David Burrows, said. 'We can exploit their problems as they go through a transitional period. We have nothing to fear.'

The First Division slips easily into parochial matters with Birmingham City at home to Nottingham Forest today and Derby County hosting Wolverhampton Wanderers tomorrow in more of the Midlands derbies that threaten to end in draws and undermine at least a few promotion challenges.

Mick McGiven, the Ipswich manager, had a lucky escape yesterday when his car overturned on the way to Portman Road. McGiven managed to scramble from the car with whiplash injuries and bruising. He was taken to Colchester District Hospital for a check-up and allowed home after treatment.

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