The English champions of the last two seasons have been embarrassed by Swedish clubs, both of whom would barely register in a list of European powers. IFK Gothenburg and Trelleborgs made it a black autumn in Lancashire two years ago, so it would be folly for Newcastle United and Aston Villa to be complacent in the first round of the Uefa Cup tonight.
They face Halmstads and Helsingborgs at St James' and Villa Park respectively. And as Villa's Gareth Southgate admitted: "We know nothing about the opposition, and that's the worry. We hadn't even spoken about Helsingborgs until yesterday."
Helsingborgs could have been lying in wait for Manchester United in the Champions' League but for losing their final two games last term. They are second again in the Swedish League and they beat Dynamo-93 Minsk of Belarus 4-1 on aggregate in the Uefa Cup preliminary round. They include Roland Nilsson, the former Sheffield Wednesday full-back.
Villa, the Coca-Cola Cup winners, will be without Sasa Curcic, who was signed too late for the 15 August European deadline and misses the first two rounds, and probably their goalkeeper Mark Bosnich, who is struggling with foot and knee injuries. What their manager, Brian Little, hopes will be present is a discipline that was lacking on Saturday when Arsenal were allowed to come back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2.
"We have got to learn how to keep the ball better when we are in a position like that. It could be a key factor," he said.
Kevin Keegan would say amen to that. The Newcastle manager watched his players lose possession and their heads in their last home European tie, allowing a 3-0 lead to dissolve to 3-2 against Athletic Bilbao two years ago. The lesson was rammed home with a 1-0 defeat in Spain that meant they were eliminated on away goals.
That should be an adequate cure for over-confidence but if it is not, the identity of the Halmstads coach would complete the job. Tom Prahl was in charge of Trelleborgs when they ousted Blackburn in 1994.
Arsenal are likely to meet Borussia Monchengladbach without David Seaman, who damaged a hamstring playing for England in Moldova nine days ago. Monchengladbach finally won their first game of the season - 3-1 against Hamburg - at the fourth attempt on Saturday. Hamburg's defeat will have been warmly greeted at Celtic, who meet them in Glasgow.
Barry Town's captain, Ian French, feared that he might miss the biggest game of his career after collapsing in a car park and injuring his head. However, a brain scan revealed no abnormalities and the 29-year-old central defender will play at Aberdeen.Reuse content