Football: United guard against complacency

European Champions' League: Gunners go to Kiev without Bergkamp as Brondby brace themselves for Old Trafford
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The Independent Online
IN DAYS of old, when teams played double-headers at Christmas, there were some remarkable turnarounds. On Boxing Day, 1963, Blackburn Rovers went to West Ham and won 8-2. Two days later West Ham travelled to Ewood Park for the return and went home with a 3-1 win.

Brondby, beaten 6-2 at home by Manchester United two weeks ago, are hoping for a similar recovery at Old Trafford tonight. At first sight it does not seem likely, United having sliced the Danish champions' defence open almost at will in Copenhagen. However, Alex Ferguson stresses that Brondby are often more dangerous away from home and that United "cannot be complacent". Indeed, Brondby have won at Liverpool, Dynamo Kiev, Tenerife, Karlsruhe and Aberdeen in recent seasons, while United have lost at home to Fenerbahce, Borussia Dortmund and Juventus.

There are also a couple of significant changes in personnel. Brondby will have John Jensen, the former Arsenal midfielder and a significant influence on their side, back after missing the first game through suspension. United are without Ryan Giggs whose pace, balance and finishing precipitated Brondby's collapse. His absence was a crucial factor in the failure to beat Monaco last season.

Even so, Jensen, as Arsenal fans doubtless remember, is rarely a matchwinner. United, meanwhile, have a fair replacement for Giggs in David Beckham, who is back after suspension. And now they have cover for Giggs on the left in Jesper Blomqvist, whose recent performances indicate he has settled into United's game.

United also have Nicky Butt and Denis Irwin available after suspension and injury. Irwin's recovery gives Ferguson the chance to rest the impressive teenager Wes Brown at right-back while Butt must contest a place with Paul Scholes in midfield. In attack United, who have scored 23 goals in their last seven European and premiership matches, should retain the increasingly potent Dwight Yorke-Andy Cole combination.

As last autumn, United are looking impressive and Jensen said: "They are one of the best teams in Europe and I think there is only one team that can beat them - my old team Arsenal. If they meet in Euro I think the result would be the same as it has been in the Premier League. They have beaten Manchester United four times running and have the edge."

United would beg to differ and they would cite one man in evidence. Roy Keane has missed, or not been fit, for most of those encounters but now he looks close to full match sharpness. "He's almost back to his best," Ferguson said. "He does make a difference in terms of the security he gives us in midfield. He doesn't give the ball away and he is a great tackler. He defends when we attack so counter- attacks are not such a threat to us when he's in the team.

Keane missed most of last season after a knee injury, but Ferguson added: "Some players are never the same but I always felt he'd come back well because of his positive attitude. Some of his fire has evaporated - enough to give me some proper nights' sleep - but you would not want to take away what makes him."

The result of the other Group D match, between Barcelona and Bayern Munich in Spain, will be eagerly awaited. Ferguson believes United will have to get something from their trip to Barcelona on 25 November if they are to win the group but, should Barcelona drop points to the Germans, it may give United some leeway. It would also mean it would be a very motivated Bayern who visit Old Trafford on 9 December in the final group game.

Brondby have to be dealt with first and Ferguson added: "We have had plenty of European games in the past to know this will be a hard one. We know if we make a mistake now it will cost us dearly and I don't think the players will be complacent."

Manchester United (4-4-2; probable): Schmeichel; Irwin, G Neville, Stam, P Neville; Scholes, Giggs, Keane, Blomqvist; Yorke, Cole.

Brondby (4-4-2; probable): Krogh; Colding, Rasmussen, Nielsen, B Jensen; Bjur, Daugaard, Jensen, Ravn; Bo Hansen, Sand.