Ferguson hungry for the appetiser

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The Independent Football

Manchester is scheduled to run out of petrol this morning but the city's greatest institution shows no sign of lacking fuel to fire its desires.

Manchester is scheduled to run out of petrol this morning but the city's greatest institution shows no sign of lacking fuel to fire its desires.

Sir Alex Ferguson revealed that he never speaks to his players about destiny, but instead has told them that if they can win the European Cup for a second time, his side can stand alone in the annals of Manchester United.

Speaking before the opening of their latest Champions' League campaign against Anderlecht, he said it would not be a disappointment to him if he never touched football's greatest club trophy again, there has been too much achievement for that. The team, however, was a different matter.

"I'm not greedy for things but what I do have is desire and a team that mirrors that," Ferguson said. "They can make for themselves a reputation that will never be beaten. They have a great work ethic, they trust each other, they have a fantastic team spirit and they can play a bit. I'm always looking for cracks but I don't see any gaping holes."

Nevertheless, he agrees with his captain, Roy Keane, who confessed that last season Manchester United were not properly focused on Europe, especially in the last, fateful game against Real Madrid. "We lost because we played like Manchester United - we went for the throat and we shouldn't have done," Ferguson said. "Had we not done so, we would have won the cup. I am certain of that.

He still makes Real favourites to retain their title: "They've added one or two players including Figo, despite being skint," he remarked pointedly.

Nevertheless, Anderlecht, who United beat 10-0 in their first European Cup encounter in 1956, will be no pushovers.

Despite United's start to the season nobody expects a similar rout at Old Trafford tonight. They were good enough to eliminate Porto to qualify for the competition proper and in Jan Koller they have a beanpole striker, who playing for the Czech Republic against Ireland, destroyed the international career of the Sunderland defender Paul Butler before it had properly begun. To make matters worse, he admits to a fondness for the great enemy, Liverpool.

"His height accounts for only 20 per cent of his game," mused Ferguson. "He doesn't use it in the same way that Niall Quinn does, he is much more adept on the ground than you'd expect from a man of that stature.

"Anderlecht's result against Porto alerts you to the kind of performance they are capable of; they will be very difficult to break down. We are expected to make the running but the threat of the counter-attack is one of the great attractions of the Champions' League, as we saw here against Real Madrid."

The player who Ferguson would prefer to deal with Koller, Jaap Stam, is still recovering from injury, and Ferguson said he would only play if there was rain to soften up the Old Trafford pitch. And with Dynamo Kiev and PSV Eindhoven to come Ferguson knows three points are vital tonight.

As you would expect from such a methodical organisation, contingency plans are in place to ensure the Manchester United team reaches Old Trafford this evening and some would suggest the blocked refineries pose more of a threat than Anderlecht. "We're not putting petrol in their drinks tomorrow," laughed the United manager. "We're making our own cutbacks."

MANCHESTER UNITED (probable, 4-4-2): Barthez, G Neville, Johnsen, Silvestre, P Neville; Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Giggs; Sheringham, Cole.

ANDERLECHT (probable): De Wilde, Oyen, De Boeck, Staelens, Crasson, Vanderhaeghe, Goor, Dheedne, Baseggio, Radzinski, Koller.