Rio Ferdinand has spent too much time watching Manchester United fail to go the final mile in Europe in recent years. Before he arrived at the club, he explained yesterday, he had "watched many a time when I expected United to win the Champions League" and there was a painful sense of déjà vu when he did it all over again, observing from the sidelines as Milan so brutally broke the club in the semi-final second leg last May.
So it is with a sense of unfulfilled promise that Ferdinand goes into the second leg of the first knockout round tie against Lyons at Old Trafford tonight with a desire to prove that a domestically dominant force can prevail in Europe, too. "I think teams that are considered great teams have normally won the European Cup or Champions League in recent times," Ferdinand said, ahead of a tie which Carlos Tevez's late equaliser in France renders more comfortable than it otherwise might have been. Though the European champions' title is no guarantee of greatness, it "adds to the fact you are a good side," Ferdinand observed and though he repudiated any suggestion of envious glances down the M62 from Old Trafford, there's no disguising that United – far superior to Liverpool domestically – feel they should be out-competing them on the continent.
"Liverpool have done well over the last couple of years getting to two finals and winning one so well done to them but we look at ourselves," Ferdinand said. "Obviously, we would like to be a bit more fruitful in this competition because we feel we have talent, we have numbers at the moment and there is a desire within the club to be doing well and achieving well this year."
United's home form in the tournament this season – three straight wins – has certainly raised expectations that this might their year. Win tonight and they will equal Juventus' record of 10 straight home wins in Europe and their only doubt is Ryan Giggs, who took a blow to his calf in Lyons. Sir Alex Ferguson's enthusiasm about Carlos Tevez, now 15 goals to the good this season, drew comparisons with Eric Cantona from him yesterday, the two sharing an ability to pop and score when it really matters, he believes. "That one in Lyons was obviously really important to us as was his goal against Liverpool and Tottenham," said Ferguson. "He has a knack of rising to the occasion with a goal just when it's needed."
Karim Benjema, Lyons' striking sensation who gave his side the lead two weeks ago, also drew some eye-catching comparisons from Ferguson, who expects to have Nemanja Vidic back after a calf injury to contend with the French international. "He's a very strong boy, he reminds me a little bit of [Zinedine] Zidane, physique-wise and possibly pace-wise too," said Ferguson, who insists he has not yet made inquiries about the purchase of the striker. "He's a natural centre forward."
Ferguson's opposite number, Alain Perrin, is only wishing that he had such a good feeling about the so-called Etoile Benzema who learned his trade on the tough back streets on east Lyons. Though Lyons maintained their lead in Ligue 1 with a 1-0 victory over Lille on Saturday, Perrin promptly found himself playing down a feud with Benzema, who was indignant at being restricted to the left wing and substituted.
Benzema, who has scored 26 goals this season, has also clashed with Lyon's other prime asset – 20-year-old winger Hatem Ben Arfa. "These two players have already declared that they are not the best friends in the world," Perrin revealed. "It's a story which concerns them personally. I will speak to them, but these are matters between men. It's their private life, their personal life."
Though Saturday also saw Perrin welcome back his most commanding defender, Cris – a Brazilian known as "The Sheriff" – after seven months out with torn knee ligaments, the feuding has done little to ease tensions after a period of poor results which prompted the club president to personally challenge the players. Could Perrin conceivably play Benzeman and Ben Arfa together? he was asked after the team arrived yesterday. "Yes, but they won't be going out together after the game," he replied.
It was left to one of Lyons' more settled players – Juninho, a major influence in the first leg – to focus on the match. "We are still in this tie," he said. "Do not rule us out. You need technique and strong characters to win silverware and we have those."
Ferdinand has different ideas. "Last season we had a great chance to be a part of the final at least but that didn't happen," he said. "We would like to change that."
Tonight's probable teams
MAN UTD (4-4-2)
Van der Sar;
Referee: R Rosetti (It) KO: 19.45. TV: ITV1Reuse content