Ferguson backs young stars picked on by Keane

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The Independent Football

While Keane is said to be angered but not surprised that an interview with the club's in-house television channel in which he attacked the attitude and ability of several team-mates was shelved, United believe that the timing of those comments, in between the Middlesbrough débâcle and tonight's Champions' League tie with Lille, justified their response in the interests of team morale.

Ferguson demonstrated his feelings on the latest controversy to afflict his squad before boarding the flight for Charles de Gaulle Airport, cutting a Sky interview short and telling the reporter he "was finished" for mentioning Keane's disparaging remarks. But the captain's ruthless analysis was clearly on his mindas he claimed Saturday's mauling at The Riverside would be the making of his inexperienced squad.

"A bad defeat like Saturday's is a big step for them mentally," said Ferguson. "In the past we've relied on experienced players like Steve Bruce and Bryan Robson to help the young players. We have got to pick up the resilience and substance of Manchester United teams in the past but some of our young players have only been here one year." The mention of Robson and Bruce will not be lost on Keane, who credits the pair with enabling him to settle at Old Trafford when he arrived in 1993.

Ferguson also denied that there is a more apocalyptic air to this United crisis than any he has faced before. He added: "It is the same as any other time because there is such a fascination with this club and I hope the younger players now know what it means. When you get a belting like we did on Saturday that can help them understand more than anything else. We are the biggest club on the planet, in the universe, no doubt about that."

Ruud van Nistelrooy will captain United tonight in the absence of Keane, Neville and the suspended Paul Scholes, while Wayne Rooney has completed a two-match ban.

Lille (probable, 4-2-3-1): Sylva; Lichtsteiner, Tavlaridis, Schmitz, Tafforeau; Bodmer, Makoun; Gygax, Acimovic, Dernis; Moussilou.

Manchester United (probable, 4-4-1-1): Van der Sar; Bardsley, Ferdinand, Silvestre, O'Shea; Ronaldo, Fletcher, Smith, Park; Rooney; Van Nistelrooy.

Referee: M Merk (Germany).