United's relief at Rooney recovery

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson often appears to relish Manchester United's habit of doing things the hard way but even he must be wearying of their current switchback season. Once again there was good and bad news for the manager yesterday as he took his team to France for tonight's Champions' League tie against Lyon.

Sir Alex Ferguson often appears to relish Manchester United's habit of doing things the hard way but even he must be wearying of their current switchback season. Once again there was good and bad news for the manager yesterday as he took his team to France for tonight's Champions' League tie against Lyon.

The positive aspect was the discovery that Wayne Rooney's recovery from his metatarsal injury was back on schedule for early October, although Ferguson's pleasure will have dimmed at the knowledge that his England counterpart, Sven Goran Eriksson, with World Cup qualifiers against Wales and in Azerbaijan to negotiate that month, will be equally delighted. Rooney, who has not played since being injured in Euro 2004, has kicked a ball in training for the first time.

The negative was the revelation that Roy Keane has been accused of physically assaulting a teenager near his home, in Hale, while walking his dog 11 days ago. Manchester Police are investigating and while they are yet to question the United club captain, the media scrum which surrounded him at Ringway Airport will not have helped the sense of crisis enveloping Old Trafford.

Adversity, however, often brings the best out of United and Ferguson will doubtless seek to use the situation to rally his team.

Their indifferent start to the season, initially brought on by injury and unavailability, now exacerbated by dwindling confidence, is not the desired platform from which to launch their latest European campaign. But sometimes teams need a catalyst and perhaps this is just the fixture, just the occasion, to revive United.

Certainly Ferguson said his team would be seeking victory, not playing for a point. "We will always try to win games in Europe because that is the nature of our club," he said, "but it is also important we do not give goals away. We lost two bad goals at Bolton and you just hope the message gets through to the players. If we can keep a clean sheet, it gives the rest of the team the chance to go forward with more conviction."

The defender Mikaël Silvestre's response was not encouraging. "I don't know why we are making so many mistakes," he said. "If I did, we wouldn't be making them."

With Gary Neville and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer injured, United will go into the match with only one survivor from the 13 who won the European Cup in Barcelona five years ago: Ryan Giggs. The others are scattered across the football landscape; from Madrid to Milan, Birmingham to the BBC.

Keane and Paul Scholes famously missed the final through suspension. For Keane, this season could be his last chance to assuage the pain of that night, for while he is still capable of great performances, he can no longer sustain them over the course of a season.

The pair could play in tandem in central midfield but Scholes is more likely to operate off a lone striker: Ruud van Nistelrooy, if he is judged to be match-sharp, or Alan Smith if he is not.

Lyon, the French champions three years in succession, have made an unbeaten start in Ligue 1 and are among four teams sharing the lead. They have, though, struggled for goals after Giovane Elber's injury and Paul Le Guen will be tempted to include another Brazilian, Nilmar.

The 20-year-old is billed as "the next Ronaldo" and scored both goals in Lyon's weekend victory over Rennes. Marcelo, the former Lyon defender who is now a Brazilian agent and who helped bring both players to Europe, said: "He has the same qualities as Ronaldo when he joined PSV Eindhoven". Sylvain Wiltord, whose goal at Old Trafford clinched the 2002 Premiership title for Arsenal, is also in contention.

One other player whom United should be wary of is Juninho Pernambucano, a current Brazilian international and one of the best dead-ball specialists in Europe. Last year he beat Oliver Kahn from nearly 40 yards. Tim Howard, struggling for form himself, has presumably been warned.

Lyon (4-3-3): Coupet; Réveillière, Cris, Cacapa, Abidal; Essien, Juninho, Malouda; Govou, Frau, Wiltord or Nilmar.

Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Howard; P Neville, Brown, Silvestre, Heinze; Ronaldo, Keane, Djemba-Djemba, Giggs; Scholes; Van Nistelrooy or Smith.

Referee: W Stark (Germany).

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