Leeds fears over Bowyer fitness

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The Independent Online

When David O'Leary opened his programme at Old Trafford on Saturday, swiftly averting his eye from the painful roll call of injured and unavailable visiting players, the Leeds United manager may have found himself nodding in agreement with Sir Alex Ferguson's column.

When David O'Leary opened his programme at Old Trafford on Saturday, swiftly averting his eye from the painful roll call of injured and unavailable visiting players, the Leeds United manager may have found himself nodding in agreement with Sir Alex Ferguson's column.

The Manchester United manager, noting that both clubs were having to sandwich their meeting with demanding European fixtures, bemoaned this "regular riddle for English clubs, unlike many of their opponents who often find themselves allowed to postpone a league fixture in order to concentrate on an important match in the Champions' League."

So, sneaky foreigners steal a march on battling Brits again. Just the stuff to instil in his players that extra edge a sense of injustice provides. Straight out of Ferguson's motivation handbook and, given Leeds' depleted resources, a considerable temptation to O'Leary as he looks for ways to lift his squad for this evening's critical Champions' League tie with Barcelona at Elland Road.

However, there is one problem. It is not true. Dynamo Kiev, one of United's group opponents, have the power to re-arrange the Ukranian league but they are unusually privileged. Leeds may be in the middle of an awesome run of games, tonight's being the only home match in between trips to Istanbul, Manchester, local rivals Bradford, and Milan, but Barcelona arrive at Elland Road "fresh" from playing Milan and Real Madrid within four days.

Elsewhere, Bayern fitted Saturday's Munich derby between Champions' League ties while Milan, having played Barcelona, met Juventus, themselves just back from holding Deportivo La Coruna.

Tough matches every three or four days are par for the course at the rarefied level Leeds are now operating in, but it is a tribute to the resilience of O'Leary and his young players that they are still very much in contention to join Arsenal in the second stage.

Victory over Barcelona tonight will take them through. A draw would leave Leeds needing a point in Milan next week though they would still go through, even if beaten in the San Siro, should Barcelona fail to beat Besiktas next week - unless the Turks win both their remaining games.

Lose tonight and Leeds will need to win in Milan, or draw and hope Besiktas manage to win at least one of their games. Complicated? Just a bit and Leeds fans will be hoping their patched-up team can win this evening and remove any need to take their calculators to Milan next Tuesday.

It will not be easy, the manner in which Barcelona cruised to a 4-0 win over Leeds in the Nou Camp suggested a quality gap which Leeds' skeleton squad will do well to overcome.

After touring the wards, sorry, dressing-room, O'Leary wore the demeanour of a man who had been told Adam Crozier was waiting for him with a contract and a gun as he said: "It's been a very depressing morning. We're meant to be preparing for one of the biggest and best clubs in the world, yet with so many players out, training today was a nothing event. It is no way to prepare."

The hope that Leeds may welcome back Olivier Dacourt, Danny Mills, Ian Harte and Eirik Bakke is offset by the need to check the fitness of Gary Kelly, Lee Bowyer and Alan Smith, all of whom picked up knocks at Old Trafford. Square pegs may again be placed in round holes and Paul Robinson will once more be carrying a huge responsibility on his young shoulders in the Elland Road goal. However Barcelona, drained but exhilarated by their Saturday night victory over Real Madrid, have a glittering injury list of their own, with Patrick Kluivert, Manu Petit, Marc Overmars, Josep Guardiola and Boudewijn Zenden all likely to be absent.

In recent seasons, Barcelona have become regular visitors to these shores but are rare winners, their victory over Arsenal at Wembley last season being their first in 40 years and second in 20 appearances.

Leeds United (probable): Robinson; Kelly, Woodgate, Mills, Harte; Bowyer, Bakke, Dacourt, Matteo; Viduka, Smith.

Barcelona (probable): Dutruel; Puyol, Abelardo, De Boer; Xavi, Cocu; Simao, Luis Enrique, Sergi; Rivaldo, Alfonso.

Referee: T Hauge (Norway).

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