Rotor Volgograd entertain Manchester United in the Uefa Cup tonight armed with more than a little knowledge about their esteemed opponents - thanks to Andrei Kanchelskis. Old Trafford's recently departed Ukrainian has supplied them with a video of United's win at Blackburn, plus a first- hand background on his erstwhile team-mates, which should ensure that none will be sending him a get-well card as he recovers from a dislocated shoulder.
United have not travelled well in recent years, their trips round Europe since their win in the Cup-Winners' Cup in 1991 leaving unpleasant memories. Mention Barcelona and Gothenburg and a look of pain crosses the face of more than one red shirted defender; refer to their last tilt at the Uefa Cup and wholescale embarrassment breaks out.
Then, as now, they were drawn against Russians in the first round and against a modest Torpedo Moscow they lost the penalty decider from being 2-0 up after two rounds of kicks. To put it mildly, Europe has not witnessed United at their best.
The team hoping to benefit from their travel sickness this time are seventh in the Russian league but Volgograd possess the nation's top scorer, Oleg Veretennikov, who has 20 goals from 24 matches this season. Given the torrid time Paul Rideout gave United's centre-backs at Everton on Saturday, he is probably looking forward to tonight's match more than anyone.
"He's not lightning quick," Alex Ferguson, the United manager, said of Veretennikov, "but he's got good feet and he's very skilful. Volgograd try to play through him so we'll need to close him down."
Ferguson's own room for manoeuvre in the one European trophy to elude the club has been limited by lack of personnel. Last year he was worrying over who he should leave out to comply with the three foreigner rule, now injuries, suspensions and sales have removed that dilemma. The team virtually picks itself, his concern about Ryan Giggs' match fitness made irrelevant by Andy Cole's hamstring injury, and the Welsh winger plays as the principal striker.
That will bring United's quotient of players younger than 22 in the team to five, which would be more of a concern if this kindergarten collection had not won four successive matches to become joint leaders of the Premiership. "They're not kids in my eyes," Peter Schmeichel, a relative geriatric of 31, said. "They're mature young men, more than capable of doing the job. It will take time for the youngsters to adjust to the way the first team does things but believe me they're very, very good players. We've played two hard away games at Blackburn and Everton and won them both and that's given me confidence in them."
Whether they will win tonight is debatable, particularly as Ferguson will be stressing caution against a side he regards as better than Torpedo Moscow.
"I think we've learned from our experiences last year," he said. "Against Barcelona we were too positive, we got carried away. We need to get a result here. Having shipped seven goals in the last two away European ties, a draw would be more than welcome."Reuse content