Keane calls for bold solution to United 'crisis'

Ferguson admits to selection errors in heavy away defeat to PSV while new striker's quality lifts O'Leary
Click to follow
The Independent Football

The rare agony of indecision gripped Sir Alex Ferguson, who began to wonder openly about his tactics: "Am I right or am I wrong?" he asked friends before eventually deciding to speak at the 1996 Labour Party Conference.

The rare agony of indecision gripped Sir Alex Ferguson, who began to wonder openly about his tactics: "Am I right or am I wrong?" he asked friends before eventually deciding to speak at the 1996 Labour Party Conference.

Four years on and the Manchester United manager has suffered a reversal of public fortune every bit as dramatic as Tony Blair's over the fuel crisis, and like the Prime Minister came close to a public acknowledgement of mistakes, admitting after Tuesday night's débâcle in Eindhoven that "the only question is over my team selection".

It would be unwise to use the word crisis at Old Trafford, but doubts have begun to cloud in. Few would have believed that at the halfway mark of the first group stage Manchester United would have the poorest record of the four British teams in the Champions' League.

Ferguson believes 10 points will be enough to see them through and, with two home games against PSV and Dynamo Kiev to come, the target may yet be rapidly achieved. Last season United were held to a goalless draw by Croatia Zagreb, lost to Marseilles and still qualified relatively easily.

But this is a different, tougher group and even in victory PSV's coach, Erik Gerets, was ruing the fact that had his side forced a draw in Brussels, as they should have done, the Dutch champions would now have even more clear water between themselves and the pack.

His players confessed they were amazed when they saw the United team-sheet; not by the decision to play Dwight Yorke and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but the fact that David Beckham and Ryan Giggs were on the bench. "We could not believe it," said Arnold Bruggink, PSV's leading scorer. "You can rotate the side and put Yorke and Solskjaer in for Sheringham and Cole but you can't take Beckham and Giggs out of the team and expect them to play the same way.

"Our coach was delighted and we were motivated to win because Manchester United believed they could beat us with a bad side." The team Ferguson sent out was a long way from bad but, even with Jaap Stam and Fabien Barthez injured, it was below adequate strength to face the best team in the Netherlands, especially with a defence that proved unable to cope with quick, incisive through balls.

Mickaël Silvestre was caught out of position for PSV's third, while Phil Neville, part of the England back four that collapsed in the face of Luis Figo, would not have enjoyed his return to the Philips Stadion.

His captain's message was forthright; United would admit their mistakes and prepare a fearsome reception for PSV in Manchester. "We gave bad goals away," said Roy Keane. "That is not a criticism of the defence but of the whole team. Our team-work does not seem to be there, not in the last game and a half, anyway. We were caught on the break for their equaliser and we must learn to defend better.

"But we will be looking to dominate PSV at Old Trafford, like we do against most opposition. They battled hard and took their goals well but it will be a different story at our place."

However, should Eindhoven force a draw and Dynamo Kiev repeat their demolition of Anderlecht, then United would have to make up three points in two games - entirely within their capabilities, of course, but an unwelcome pressure at this stage of the season.

Ferguson's reason for the omission of Giggs and Beckham was that they needed to be fresh for Sunday's trip to Arsenal. But even had they started they would have had a day's extra rest than Arsÿne Wenger's players, who last night faced the most searing examination of their European credentials by Lazio.

United's heaviest European defeat since the night in November 1994 when, immediately before another journey to Highbury, IFK Gothenburg punished similarly naïve defending, will hurt, although the sting may not linger long.

Ferguson has noted that these days, when United do lose, the defeats tend to be by large margins but have few long-term consequences. Their last two Premiership reverses in which they conceded six goals were answered respectively by half a dozen successive wins and an as-yet-unbroken 21-game league run without defeat. Crisis, what crisis?

Comments