Ned Kelly rides shotgun on Cantona's return

United's enfant terrible is back in town as Phil Shaw looks at what awaits him
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A rum red if ever there was one, he was once too fast over the jumps for his own good. Today he is back among the starters in the 3.0 at Stamford Bridge, not far from where he fell from grace. Eric Cantona is back in town.

Cantona's reappearance in London, against Chelsea, is also his first Premiership away game since the events of Selhurst Park nine months ago. This time, however, Manchester United are taking their own security unit - trained by a former soldier called Ned Kelly - to ensure that no "fan" gets close enough to test the Frenchman's temperament.

The "bouncers" had a dry run at the Coca-Cola Cup match at York, clearing a path from the United coach with a precision normally used by those guarding heads of state. "We're prepared for everything," the United manager, Alex Ferguson, said yesterday. "But it's no problem. Eric will handle it."

A little protection from the referee would not go amiss, either. By coincidence, the man in charge is Alan Wilkie, whose dismissal of Cantona against Crystal Palace was the prelude to his attack on a spectator. Ferguson never disputed that Cantona's transgression against Richard Shaw left Mr Wilkie no alternative. But he felt, justifiably, that the official had earlier failed to act on two bad tackles, one of them on Cantona.

United's meetings with Chelsea tend to accentuate the tactical rather than the physical. Glenn Hoddle outwitted Ferguson twice in United's Double year, a feat tarnished slightly by a 4-0 reverse in the FA Cup final. Throw in the memory of Cantona almost scoring from the halfway line at the Bridge and it is no wonder Ferguson said: "We always get an interesting game there."

As if all that were not enough, Mark Hughes faces United for the first time since leaving them. "He'll probably score with one of his 40-yard volleys," Ferguson said with a fatalistic chuckle, "or an overhead scissors- kick."

The capital hosts another intriguing fixture. Arsenal, managing to be both hard to beat and entertaining, receive Aston Villa, who have conceded only one goal in five unbeaten visits to Highbury since crashing 5-0 during the death throes of Jo Venglos' managership in 1991.

The leaders, Newcastle, are just the team to establish conclusively whether Wimbledon have indeed lost the defensive pace which sustained them in the days of greyhounds like Curle, Phelan, Scales and Barton. The Dons' last trip to Tyneside, on the night of Cantona's kung-fu antics, proved a watershed for Kevin Keegan. An overdue victory showed non-believers there was life after Andy Cole.

The yellow and green of Brazil will be so much in evidence at Middlesbrough that Queen's Park Rangers may think they are at Norwich. Juninho is not cleared to play yet, so expect the candidates to make way for him, such as Craig Hignett and Robbie Mustoe, to excel.

Pick of the Endsleigh League programme is the collision of the Second Division's top two, Swindon and Crewe. Strange to reflect that 18 months ago Cantona was playing at Swindon, and getting ordered off, in the Premiership. The crowd at the County Crowd will be augmented by scouts from the big clubs, for whom tailing Dario Gradi's gifted young Crewe side is virtually a full-time job.

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