They arrived in Turin yesterday thinking as much about Zinedine Zidane, who engineered Juventus' 1-1 draw at Old Trafford a fortnight ago, as about Ryan Giggs whose ankle injury is likely to prevent him from starting.
The logic is obvious to anyone who saw Zidane pull United apart at Old Trafford but it also stems from United's confidence, after scoring three goals in Barcelona, two in Munich and one in Milan, that they will score at least once in the Stadio Delle Alpi. If they also managed to stop Juventus scoring that would be enough to put United through to the Barcelona final on 26 May. If Juventus matched them for goals United would, at worst, have to face penalties. A scoring draw higher than 1-1 would put United through.
This philosophy does depend, however, on either Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole returning to form, or goals from a midfield which may have its hands full dealing with Zidane and Edgar Davids.
Cole and Yorke were in bullish mood yesterday but neither have scored for more than a month, having played 18 hours and 44 minutes between them since their last goals.
"I don't like it when people go on about how long I have gone without scoring," Cole said. "It is nonsense to say Dwight and I have dried up, this happens to everyone. As long as we are contributing to the team, that is what matters."
Yorke, who has personally gone 632 minutes without a goal, added: "The first match with Juventus was my worst game since coming to United - but now I have another chance."
So do the midfield against their Old Trafford tormentors. Roy Keane, the United captain, said: "They won't get as much space as they did at Old Trafford." Alex Ferguson spoke with uncharacteristic circumspection, as the team checked into their airport hotel. He said: "We have certain tactics to counter the Zidane thing, I hope."
These, despite this week's assertion by Gianni Agnelli, the Juventus patriarch, that Zidane is dominated by his wife, are clearly more concrete than hoping he has had to stay at home to do the ironing.
Keane elaborated as much as he dared. "I believe tactically we got it slightly wrong at Old Trafford. We were never sure whether the centre- halves were going to pick up Zidane [who played just behind Filippo Inzaghi] so obviously we are going to chat about that. They may have to step out [to pick Zidane up] though the way Zidane moves about, it is difficult."
The likelihood is that Ronny Johnsen will be told to keep an eye on Zidane and Nicky Butt will replace Paul Scholes in the central midfield to provide a deeper presence. With Giggs struggling to shake off an ankle injury Scholes may find himself on the left, although Jesper Blomqvist may be preferred to give the team better balance. Should the tie begin drifting away, Ferguson is sure to gamble by throwing on Giggs.
Teddy Sheringham may also have a part to play for if United will not go out do go out, they will not fall without a fight. This is their second Champions' Cup semi-final in three seasons and the longing for the trophy grows by the year.
You can tell it is the business end of the season when even the businessmen are excited and, while many of the faithful believe Martin Edwards is more interested in balance sheets than scoresheets, United's chairman was clearly motivated by the prospect of glory rather than riches yesterday.
He said: "People say Manchester United is a great club and it is, but it is about time we put something on the table to prove it. It is 31 years since we won the European Cup and that is a long time."
One of the members of the winning United team, Sir Bobby Charlton, likened the match to the semi-final the 1968 side survived in Madrid on their way to their triumph. "I remember we were 3-2 down on aggregate at half- time and it looked all over. The Real Madrid fans were euphoric and their players had a degree of arrogance," he said. "But we worked hard and got the two goals we needed. The current team have that spirit, they are a brave team."
That courage, mental as much as physical, will be required tonight.Reuse content