Richardson to lead United's cameo kids

Simon Stone
Sunday 09 March 2003 01:00
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Sir Alex Ferguson is ready to give youth a chance against Basle on Wednesday. With a Champions' League quarter-final berth already assured and some tricky Premiership fixtures to negotiate over the next two months, Ferguson is taking the opportunity to give some of his leg-weary first-teamers a break.

Injuries may dictate his final starting line-up, but rookies such as Darren Fletcher, Kieran Richardson and Daniel Nardiello can all expect to be involved, as can bit-part players Ricardo and Diego Forlan. With Mikaël Silvestre, Wes Brown and Roy Keane all doubtful, there could even be a rare start for David May.

The ease with which United have advanced to the last eight – nine wins from 10 starts in the competition so far, including the impressive 3-0 win over Juventus in Turin which secured the quarter-final berth – has led many pundits to suggest United are on course to repeat their triumph of four years ago.

Keane, though, is refusing to be drawn into the sentimental notion of a final victory on home soil. With both Milan clubs, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Arsenal and Juventus all likely to be among the last eight, the United captain, who missed out through suspension in 1999, does not believe the hard work has even started yet. "Getting to the quarter-finals means nothing," he said. "It is dangerous to get carried away. Everyone was saying the same thing when we knocked out Deportivo La Coruña last year, and then we came unstuck against Bayer Leverkusen when we thought they were there for the taking."

The hamstring injury Keane suffered against Leeds on Wednesday rules the Irishman out of this week's encounter, and the trip to La Coruña six days later. But he feels one of the positive spin-offs from United progressing with something in hand is the opportunity to blood younger players against a Basle side who have already eliminated Celtic and Liverpool. "We have all been through the process and you keep picking up information all the time."

Newcastle head into their Champions' League trip to Internazionale on Tuesday knowing defeat is not an option. Sir Bobby Robson's side went down 4-1 to the Italians at St James' Park in November on a night when they learnt several tough lessons about European football at the highest level. However, it was the dismissal and subsequent suspension of striker Craig Bellamy, soon to be followed by skipper Alan Shearer, which proved most costly.

The sanctions hit Newcastle badly, but young deputies Shola Ameobi and Lomana LuaLua did their job to help secure a precious away win in Leverkusen, with Shearer returning for the home clash against the Germans to plunder a hat-trick that ensured the trip to Milan will involve more than just sightseeing.

"Although I would rather Barcelona had won in Milan, the 0-0 draw there in all the circumstances wasn't too bad a result," said Robson. "It means, simply, that we in all probability have to win our last two games, first in the San Siro against Inter and then at home to Barcelona, to qualify for the quarter-finals.

"It's a big task, but it's within our reach. We will be optimistic in Milan. We want to stay in the tournament, we've given ourselves a chance and we won't be afraid."

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