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Fortune to favour the brave

Published: Tuesday 30 April 2002, 8.46CET
Caution is unlikely to be the watchword when Bayer 04 Leverkusen meet Manchester United FC.

Tournament statistics

LeverkusenMan. United

Goals scored29
Attempts on target103
Attempts off target117
Fouls committed283
Yellow cards30
Red cards0

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Published: Tuesday 30 April 2002, 8.46CET

Fortune to favour the brave

Caution is unlikely to be the watchword when Bayer 04 Leverkusen meet Manchester United FC.

Klaus Toppmöller is not about to make the same mistake twice. The Bayer 04 Leverkusen coach instructed his team to play for a draw against 1. FC Nürnberg last Saturday and the tactic backfired on the German club with possibly catastrophic consequences.

United 'will score'
Today's second leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-final against Manchester United is a game where fortune will favour only the brave. Of course, the English team have no other option than to go for victory after surrendering the advantage to Toppmöller's side in last week's 2-2 draw at Old Trafford - a 3-3 draw or better would surely be asking too much even of a side with the cavalier instincts of United, although Sir Alex Ferguson, their manager, yesterday reiterated his belief that United "would score" at the BayArena.

Positive approach
When it comes to attacking football Leverkusen are right up there with the English champions and Real Madrid CF, even if in historical and financial terms they are not in the same league. Leverkusen's positive approach - they outpunched United by 14 shots to eight in the first leg - took the Manchester club by surprise, and earned applause from their opponents at the final whistle.

Playing to win
Toppmöller reciprocated that respect when he said yesterday: "You cannot prepare a side for a goalless draw, not against Manchester United. They're a team that can score goals in any stadium in the world. It would be a very dangerous attitude to adopt. I would predict that if we don't score we probably won't go through. We certainly won't play a very aggressive pressing game."

Defeat by Nürnberg
Leverkusen have been in a state of "general shock" with Toppmöller "dazed" following Saturday's shattering 1-0 defeat by struggling Nürnberg. "Our aim was to earn at least one point from this game and then go for the title in the final fixture," said Toppmöller. "Our approach was too defensive."

Lost initiative
The upshot is that the initiative in the championship race has passed to BV Borussia Dormund who now have only to win their final game at home to SV Werder Bremen this Saturday to deny Leverkusen their first 1. Bundesliga title. Even fans of rivals 1. FC Köln, who have been relegated, have expressed their sympathy for the Leverkusen club. However, the game against United was an opportunity, said Toppmöller, for the players to prove their resilience and character.

Memories of Turin
The German coach will not want to be reminded that it is a game which evokes memories of United's extraordinary comeback, in a campaign of extraordinary comebacks, three years ago against Juventus FC when, after a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford at the same semi-final stage, United went two down inside eleven minutes to the Italians at the Delle Alpi, only to score three in reply.

One booking away
Few United players remember the game more vividly than Roy Keane, the United captain, who was booked that day and as a result missed the final. A winners' medal, as he was later to say famously, meant nothing to him as he watched his team-mates perform the definitive late, late show against FC Bayern München. The sense of déjà vu will be powerful because he is again one booking away from missing a Champions League final.

Walking the tightrope
In all, 13 players - four from United and nine from Leverkusen - stand one moment's aberration away from such a fate and yesterday Ferguson appealed to the referee, Kim Milton Nielsen, to take into consideration the precarious situation players from both clubs were in. "We have to play with honesty and hope the referee understands the importance of the game," said Ferguson. The players walking a tightrope are as follows: Thomas Brdaric, Michael Ballack, Lucio, Oliver Neuville, Jens Nowotny, Diego Placente, Zoltan Sebescen, Ze Roberto and Boris Zivkovic for Leverkusen, and Laurent Blanc, Nicky Butt, Ruud van Nistelrooij and Keane for United.

'Most influential player'
Ferguson's disappointment at being without the injured David Beckham has been offset by Keane's return from a hamstring problem. Ferguson yesterday described the Republic of Ireland captain as "the most influential player we've probably ever had". Asked if he meant Keane was more influential than Bryan Robson or even Eric Cantona, Ferguson replied: "Bryan had similar qualities. You don't get many players like that come along and I've been fortunate to have two of them. He and Roy shared the same common denominator in that both were a driving force and an inspiration to the players around them. Eric was our talisman, he was the catalyst of what we were trying to do at that time, but he was a different kind of player."

Ballack and Barthez doubts
Leverkusen look as though they may be without their own talisman. Michael Ballack, the fulcrum of last week's success, suffered a badly bruised foot at the weekend and is "very doubtful", according to Toppmöller. The Leverkusen coach added: "We hope and pray he will be fit. He's so crucial to our team." United have doubts of their own over goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, who missed training yesterday because of a heavy cold. Northern Irish international Roy Carroll would start in Barthez'a absence.

Now or never
The great Franz Beckenbauer has spoken recently of his preference for watching "enjoyable football rather than adding another trophy to a title collection". The FC Bayern München president can probably afford, after years of unending success, to adopt such a rationale. Leverkusen and Toppmöller cannot.

Last updated: 30/04/02 21.50CET