Manchester United will seek tonight to avoid the calamities suffered on Europe's eastern front by England and Scotland last week. Their Ukrainian opponents, Dynamo Kiev, are floundering in Champions League Group F, but with both Russia and Georgia having proven to be better than had been anticipated, Sir Alex Ferguson counselled against over-confidence.
"Kiev have some talented players," he said. "They were unlucky against Sporting Lisbon. They had some chances and should have won that game."
Edwin van der Sar added: "You must not underestimate these teams. It can be difficult. The crowd can be fanatical and you are never sure what teams you are up against."
United have reason to be confident. They won their opening Champions League matches against Sporting Lisbon and Roma without playing particularly well. To judge from subsequent domestic defeats of Wigan and Aston Villa they are now running into form as well as gaining results. Kiev, however, are pointless in Europe and trailing Shakhtar Donetsk by seven points at home.
Ferguson is able to recall Nemanja Vidic to play against his Serbian defensive colleague Goran Gavrancic. Cristiano Ronaldo will also return, probably at the expense of Anderson. There may be one other change with Darren Fletcher or John O'Shea stiffening the midfield from a 4-3-3 formation. Either Nani or Carlos Tevez would make way but while the former's inclusion would provide a better shape Ferguson will only reluctantly break up Tevez's burgeoning partnership with Rooney.
"This is a team that is coming together, and in Tevez and Rooney we have two exceptionally good players who are a real threat to defenders," he said. "We've had some fantastic partnerships at the club over the years and most of them took time to develop, apart from [Andy] Cole and [Dwight] Yorke, who were terrific in their first season together. Wayne is only 22, Carlos is 23. They are both young players. Hopefully in three or four years time we will see something really special from them.
"Both have got great attributes as strikers. Courage, speed, the ability to beat men, vision. All the things are there. But it's maturity. Once you see that, you see greater authority, better timing. And when that comes, hopefully they'll still be at this club and people will see what really special players they are."
Rooney was already settled at Old Trafford when Tevez completed his controversial summer move. The Argentine, hampered by injury, initially struggled to capture the form he showed at West Ham but has since thrived on the bigger stage. "It is a test for every player who comes to United," added Ferguson. "He has provided his own answer. He's been very, very good.
"Whether he and Wayne can become another Cole and Yorke we don't know yet but the evidence is good at the moment. We are encouraged but they are young players. We hope they develop as a partnership and get better."
The partnership's flowering is opportune for Ferguson as Louis Saha continues to be hampered by injuries. The French striker is absent again – he has not even travelled to Kiev. Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick are also injured but Kiev are themselves without Sergei Rebrov, the former Tottenham forward.
The Ukrainians were once a force to be reckoned with. In 1999 they would have faced United in the Champions League final but for wasting a winning position against Bayern Munich in the semi-finals. Their glory days are well behind them now. They are challenged at home by Shakhtar Donetsk, and have not emerged from the group stages in Europe since 1999-2000. The following season United drew here 0-0.
United, said Ferguson, would look for a victory which would all but confirm their place in the knock-out stages. However Van der Sar noted that would not mean job done. "Last year we won the first three matches then got ourselves into difficulties and had to wait until the last game to qualify," he said.
With United's final tie being away to Roma, Ferguson is anxious to ensure qualification is settled beforehand. Four points from this match, and the return at Old Trafford in a fortnight, would effectively achieve that goal. "We expect them to be really positive and have a go but we see the double-header as an opportunity for us," said Ferguson.