Van Nistelrooy's aim sharpened by Lyon feelgood factor
Friday 17 September 2004
The only English team not to win in the Champions' League this week nevertheless hoped their result would prove the springboard for a lift in their season. Manchester United's draw with Lyon at the Stade Gerland in France on Wednesday would be a respectable result in any circumstances but having trailed two-nil at the interval, after a half Mikaël Silvestre described as "the worst of the season", it had the feel-good factor of a victory.
Ruud van Nistelrooy, who marked his growing return to fitness with United's two goals, exemplified the mood when he said yesterday: "This performance will give us a lot to build on. I hope it's what we needed to get back on track. We showed a lot of character. At half-time we were still up for it and that's what earned us a point."
However, Van Nistelrooy acknowledged that while United's character cannot be doubted their performances have to improve. "We cannot keep going on like this, conceding goals and having poor halves," he said. "We have to continue playing just like we did in the second half. Against Liverpool on Monday we'll need to play the whole 90 minutes like that. That is a special game. We have a good rest before then, so hopefully it'll get back on track in the league."
Monday's match is special not just for the historical rivalry between the clubs but also because it marks the return of Rio Ferdinand from suspension. The injured Wayne Rooney is also nearing his United debut and Van Nistelrooy said: "We are getting stronger. Rio is coming back, Wayne is coming back, the squad is getting fit with everyone ready to play."
This includes the Dutchman, who only returned to first-team action last Saturday after breaking down during an attempted pre-season comeback, following his injury during the summer. On Wednesday, despite receiving brutal treatment from the Lyon defence, he managed 79 minutes and scored two poacher's goals.
"I felt a lot better than at Bolton," he said. "I played 74 minutes against Bolton and it was hard. I hadn't played since the Euros [Euro 2004] so I was happy to get a game. The manager said he would have to play me against Bolton because I would need that game before the Champions' League started and he was right."
In Van Nistelrooy's absence, Manchester United have slipped nine points behind Arsenal in the Premiership after just five games. This prompted Laurent Blanc, the former United and France defender, to suggest they would concentrate on the Champions' League.
"Manchester know there is already an important gap between them and Arsenal in the championship," Blanc said. "At Manchester they dream of carrying off the Champions' League again, five years after their last title, and this challenge will, without doubt, be the focus of their attention now." Van Nistelrooy denied this. "The Champions' League is not more important to us - how can it be with Liverpool the next Premiership match?" he asked.
"Every game we play this season is going to be played with full determination. We'll be giving everything whether it is the Premiership, Champions' League, FA Cup or Carling Cup. If you are a United player that is what it is about. I am not concerned at the way the season has started. It is history. We can't change it, we have to deal with it. You say Arsenal must have a dip at some stage, but we do not think about them. We have to look at ourselves, not anyone else, that won't help us. We have to build on our own team and our own performances. That is what we have to focus on."
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