Ferguson demands spirit that sank Roma

Manager recalls famous win over Italians as United seek to come from behind again

Sir Alex Ferguson invoked forces beyond his control last night as Manchester United plotted to reverse a trend in the club's modern history by overcoming Bayern Munich in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final this evening.

Only once in the club's 17 consecutive years of Champions League football has a first-leg defeat proved surmountable for United – when Roma beat them 2-1 in Stadio Olimpico three years back. The second leg of that encounter brought the legendary 7-1 annihilation of Luciano Spalletti's side at Old Trafford and Ferguson drew on his stadium's powers of inspiration as he asserted that his players could win through again. "Old Trafford has that suction behind the goal," he said. "In the Stretford End in the second half, the ball gets sucked into the goal. It's amazing. It's not always in respect of the team. The fans sometimes make it happen."

This was not empty rhetoric. Old Trafford at times resembles the library which visiting supporters mock and it was a mausoleum on Saturday. But the 1-0 semi-final win over Barcelona two years ago lives in the memory among atmospheres and now United need it like never before, buffeted as they have been by the anaemic first-half display against Chelsea which had even left their manager a subdued soul yesterday. Ferguson did not disguise the fact that the manner of the 2-1 weekend defeat had affected him. "I feel stronger about the [Bayern] game than I did on Saturday," he admitted. And while it still seems far-fetched to suggest he can turn to Wayne Rooney, a player with an orthopaedic boot around his right leg as recently as Saturday, you feel that the kernel of possibility Ferguson kept alive actually stems from his reluctance to close that particular door until he really has to. There are certainly some strong portents weighing against United this evening, including Arjen Robben's declaration yesterday that he was not in Manchester to sit around watching a football match. Bayern won their own prospective weekend title decider 2-1, at Schalke, and it will not be lost on Ferguson that Louis van Gaal's side have scored in every Champions League away game they have played this season. That is hardly an enticing prospect for United – who, incidentally, have not lost three consecutive games since the last three fixtures of the 2000-01 campaign, when the title was already theirs. "We can't allow ourselves to be knocked out by away goals," Ferguson insisted. But his defence, which went 14 consecutive games without conceding a goal in the middle of last season, has failed to keep a single clean sheet this season against the current Premier League top seven.

"People score against us. It happens," Ferguson said, brushing away the thought. "We're not the only team to concede goals. Last season was different. It was an exceptional season." But the left flank provides grounds for concern. Gary Neville clearly lost the battle to Franck Ribéry there in Munich, though Ferguson was also indignant when it was put to him that the Frenchman has the beating of his own club captain for speed. "Are you sure of that?" he shot back. "I think Ribéry is a very talented player and a great dribbler of the ball but I don't think he is any quicker than Gary Neville."

While Ferguson deliberates on how to contend with Ribéry – selecting from Neville, who has played seven straight games for United, or Rafael da Silva, who was undone in the previous round by Ronaldinho, is difficult – he also needs goals without Rooney. Ferguson said United will not start with Federico Macheda alongside Dimitar Berbatov in a 4-4-2, the 18-year-old only having been back in training for a month after a long-term groin strain.

Berbatov was the elephant in the room but his name did crop up in Van Gaal's press conference, when Ferguson's Dutch opposite number revealed he once wanted to buy him from Bayer Leverkusen before Tottenham moved in. Berbatov's record against strong sides is as poor as the defence's, but the first-leg deficit demands someone step up. On that April night against Roma, Michael Carrick – who may be recalled here – scored after only 12 minutes and an early goal would certainly bolster a United side shell-shocked by the events of the last week. It is almost three years ago to the day since that Roma second-leg – a game which, like tonight's, United entered four days after a 2-1 League defeat (at Portsmouth.)

Ferguson had not thought of the connection between the two fixtures. "You don't have time to think that far back," he remarked. But once reminded, the memory grew on him. "It was one of these performances you don't see every week," he reflected. "Perhaps once in a lifetime. But I think the Roma team of that time were equal to Bayern, in terms of ability."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders