Ferguson aims to turn tide of history

Champions' League: Deportivo's home record against English sides suggests a difficult evening ahead for defensively weakened Manchester United
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The Independent Football

Much has been made, this Champions' League campaign, of the fates favouring Manchester United because of the symmetry of Sir Alex Ferguson completing his career with victory in the Glasgow final.

Since superstition and football go hand in hand this is hardly surprising. Best not to mention then, to Ferguson, the fate that befell the last Glaswegian general to lead his men to this Spanish outpost.

The tomb of Sir John Moore, who fought the French here in the Peninsular War, is now one of the area's tourist sights – along with the harbour from which the Spanish Armada sailed. Ferguson and his players, however, are more interested in one of the beachside attractions – the Estadio Riazor.

The ground is even closer to the coast than Grimsby's Blundell Park and, whether it is the sea air, or the uncontinental hemmed-in feel, it has become a fortress for Deportivo La Coruña. Although they have been knocked out of European competition the last two seasons by Arsenal and Leeds United, Deportivo won the home leg of each tie. While they are unbeaten at home against English opposition United, in 11 previous visits to Spain, have yet to win. But nor, since the 4-0 drubbing in the Nou Camp seven years and five visits ago, have they lost.

This offers hope to a United team which will have to again reshape its surprisingly vulnerable defence following the withdrawal of Wes Brown with a hamstring injury. Ronnie Johnsen will come in for Brown while Dwight Yorke's absence (thigh) means Andy Cole will at least make the bench. Contrary to weekend reports David Beckham, added Ferguson, has "absolutely nothing wrong" with his groin.

Deportivo will be without the mercurial Djalminha and, probably, Jose Maria Amavisca who scored twice in Saturday's 3-2 win at Alaves.

That took them second in La Liga and Javier Irureta, Deportivo's coach, said: "Very few teams are going to win at Alaves and victory there has put us in a very positive mood. Although the Champions' League is a very different competition that result gives us a lot of strength."

Their winner on Saturday came in the 87th minute, confirming a reputation, common to all strong and confident teams, for late goals. It followed an equaliser in the fourth minute of injury time in their opening Champions' League game against Olympiakos.

United, by virtue of defeating Lille the same night with a Beckham goal in the 90th minute, stand top of Group G and, according to Ferguson, victory here would put them in a very strong position. He said: "When the draw was made I thought Deportivo would be our main rivals so this is a big game for us, our crucial game in the group.

"They have been resting players, like us, from league games ahead of Champions' League ties so they obviously think winning it is possible."

Ferguson intends to continue with his re-jigged frontline in which Ruud van Nistelrooy leads the line with another player, probably Paul Scholes, supporting from a deeper position. The change had to be done, he said, because opponents had worked them out.

"We have to show we can play away from home, we've not been brilliant in the last year or so away," said the Scot. "We've kept on playing the same way and teams have analysed us."

The changes are still being assimilated but, said Beckham, "they have given me the opportunity to get more involved in the game. My position is still out wide putting crosses in, but I've been able to move about the pitch more. It's probably why I have scored more goals."

The new look certainly appeared effective in training at the Riazor last night as the first team gave the stiffs, bolstered by the unlucky Juan Veron, a drubbing. Van Nistelrooy, paired with Scholes, was particularly sharp impressing several hundred watching Spaniards with a series of goals. Roy Makaay, his Dutch international team-mate said: "If you give Ruud a metre he will score."

Since United are always likely to score, notwithstanding goalless draws on their last two visits to Spain, much will depend on the back four. Though Irureta said: "I think Man United does not have any weaknesses," Makaay, though, thought United's defence could be vulnerable.

La Coruña's wealth is based on the fishing industry, the catch landed here is the biggest in Europe. With Deportivo needing to win to maintain their expected challenge to United Ferguson hopes the locals will be left lamenting one that got away.

Deportivo La Coruña (probable): Molina; Manuel Pablo, Donato, Naybet, Romero; Mauro Silva, Emerson, Makaay, Valeron, Fran; Deigo Tristan.

Manchester United (probable): Barthez; G Neville, Johnsen, Blanc, Irwin; Beckham, Keane, Veron, Giggs; Scholes, Van Nistelrooy.

Referee: S Braschi (Italy).

* Tony Adams is out of Arsenal's Champions' League game to face Panathinaikos tomorrow with foot and groin problems. Adams played on Saturday against Bolton after missing three games with a foot injury.