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United on a roll

Published: Monday 30 September 2002, 20.23CET
Manchester United FC are keen to reach the second group stage as quickly as possible.
Published: Monday 30 September 2002, 20.23CET

United on a roll

Manchester United FC are keen to reach the second group stage as quickly as possible.

By Trevor Haylett

With maximum points banked from their first two UEFA Champions League games, Manchester United FC manager Sir Alex Ferguson knows a victory against Olympiakos Piraeus FC will put them within touching distance of the second group stage.

Convincing win
However, whether the 1999 champions achieve that depends to some extent on which Greek side emerges at Old Trafford - the Olympiakos who defeated Bayer 04 Leverkusen so convincingly or the Olympiakos who surprisingly succumbed to Maccabi Haifa six days later.

Twists and turns
The United coach believes that those results are indicative of what could turn out to be a competition full of twists and turns. "This is an opportunity for us to get in the driving seat in the group," Ferguson said. "The surprise really was Olympiakos losing to Maccabi Haifa. It was a shock that no one expected. Maybe there is a change to the competition this season with more of the surprise results that we have seen in the last two weeks."

Van Nistelrooij out
Ferguson expects to rule Ruud van Nistelrooij out of his lineup with the same hamstring strain that forced him to leave the field at half-time having scored both goals to secure a 2-1 win over Leverkusen last week. The Dutchman came on in the second half against Charlton Athletic FC at the weekend, and scored the last goal in a 3-1 win, but Ferguson appears unwilling to risk him further. On a more positive note Juan Sebastián Verón has recovered from flu and Mikaël Silvestre's knee has recovered sufficiently to allow him to return.

Last visit
Olympiakos's last visit to Manchester was less than 12 months ago and ended in a 3-0 defeat, maintaining their record of never having scored in five visits to England while the loss against Maccabi in Cyprus extended their search for an away win in the competition to 17 fixtures.

Changes likely
That defeat - Ferguson said the 3-0 scoreline was not a true reflection of the Greek team's contribution - will prompt changes to the Olympiakos lineup. Coach Takis Lemonis is likely to replace Giovanni with Alexios Alexandris, who will plough a lone furrow up front while skipper Predrag Djordjevic, who hit a memorable hat-trick in the 6-2 success over Leverkusen, looks for opportunities to get forward from midfield.

Amanatidis set to come in
In defence Giorgios Amanatidis is favoured to come in for Christos Patsatzoglou and perform man-marking duties on Ryan Giggs. After gaining first-hand evidence at the weekend of Giggs's ability to destroy defences Lemonis described the Welshman as "the man to watch". Lambros Choutos and Christos Kontis did not travel as they continue their recovery from injury. Lemonis said that after the Maccabi defeat the players showed in training how angry they were with themselves. "This should help us in this game," he said.

Last updated: 05/12/02 15.29CET

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