Ferguson banks on United extending home rule

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The Independent Online

Dynamo Kiev arrived in a deluge remarkable even by Manchester standards and there are few who do not expect them to face a storm of shots at Old Trafford this evening.

Dynamo Kiev arrived in a deluge remarkable even by Manchester standards and there are few who do not expect them to face a storm of shots at Old Trafford this evening.

If they survive, a situation which Ryan Giggs described as "unthinkable" and which Sir Alex Ferguson refused even to discuss yesterday will have come to pass: Manchester United will have fallen at the Champions' League's first hurdle. It would be a grim way to mark Ferguson's 14th anniversary in charge of the club he has made into the world's wealthiest.

The Champions' League is all about money and in the wake of speculation of financial inducements offered by Barcelona for Milan to beat Leeds United, Kiev denied they had received messages of encouragement from PSV Eindhoven or Anderlecht, who would both benefit from a Ukrainian victory by a minimum of £2m. However, they have incentives of their own.

The Kiev president, Hrihory Surkis, is believed to have offered his players £30,000 a man - three times the bonuses of the United players - to win this game and maintain his club's European profile by qualifying for the Uefa Cup. For his leading players, it represents half a year's salary.

United always believed 10 points would be sufficientto qualify, although fewbelieved that would be the most they would be capable of. Ferguson confessed it was their relative success in the Ukraine in September which has led directly to this evening's scenario, one in which they are "a kick of a ball from being out of the Champions' League".

A goalless draw in the Olympic Stadium was a better result than expected and helped persuade Ferguson to field a weakened side in Eindhoven with disastrous results. "We have ourselves to blame in some respects," he said. "Coming away from Kiev with a point meant I thought I could gamble against PSV."

The gamble failed and this, coupled with a defensive performance against Anderlecht which Ferguson described as a "shambles", has led to United's first must-win game in Europe since the night in February when they were knocked out at the quarter-final stage by Real Madrid.

"This is not a game for passengers," the United manager said. "I know there is a lot of hype about this match but I'm sure the players will cope. They are well used to playing on the edge."

Ferguson confessed that United had fallen into the trap of placing too much emphasis on attack against Madrid and the presence of Nicky Butt for the suspended Paul Scholes will form a vital component in midfield. "His form has been absolutely marvellous this year," he said, although the 2-1 defeat in Brussels was Butt's weakest game. "We will be expected to take the initiative and it is important we are not caught on the counter-attack, because in their two away games Kiev have scored right away."

However, despite twice taking the lead the Ukrainian champions lost both these away fixtures, reverses which meant the most they can hope for tonight is a Uefa Cup place. Their assistant coach, Anatoli Puzach, described their most recent display, a home defeat against PSV, as "toothless". "Our forwards were ineffective and our midfielders made a lot of unnecessary mistakes," he said. Any repetition risks a rout.

Their sharpest fangs, Andrei Shevchenko and Sergei Rebrov, have long left and Valeri Lobanowski, the manager who steered them to the semi-final of the European Cup two seasons ago, has found Georgei Demetradze and Maksim Shatskikh unable to fill the void. The man who, unlike Bobby Robson, was given the chance to combine club and national team management in his sixties, claimed his footballers had fallen victim to "star disease".

Ferguson has long had the antidote to that at Old Trafford, where his side has remained formidable, averaging almost four goals a game this season. The United manager pointed out that the group matches this season have gone overwhelmingly to the home teams and at Old Trafford United have remained irresistible. In eight matches there this season, only Newcastle have prevented them scoring three, and only once have they conceded more than one goal. Despite the nerves in Manchester mingling with the rain this morning, these figures, rather than cash bonuses, should see them through.

Manchester United (probable 4-4-2): Barthez; Irwin, G Neville, Brown, Silvestre; Beckham, Keane, Butt, Giggs; Cole, Sheringham.

Dynamo Kiev (probable 4-4-2): Shovkovski; Bodnar, Vaschuk, Dmitrulin, Nesmachnyi; Holovko, Lisitski, Khatskevic, Bialkevic; Demetradze, Shatskikh.

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