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Content to be underdogs

Published: Monday 23 September 2002, 18.17CET
Klaus Toppmöller is relieved Bayer 04 Leverkusen are outsiders against Manchester United FC.

Tournament statistics

LeverkusenMan. United

Goals scored14
Attempts on target58
Attempts off target86
Fouls committed192
Yellow cards23
Red cards0

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Published: Monday 23 September 2002, 18.17CET

Content to be underdogs

Klaus Toppmöller is relieved Bayer 04 Leverkusen are outsiders against Manchester United FC.

By Mark Bennett

The last time Bayer 04 Leverkusen faced Manchester United FC as underdogs, in a UEFA Champions League semi-final last season, Klaus Toppmöller's side defied the odds to advance to a final showdown with Real Madrid CF at the expense of the English club.

Old Trafford final
Leverkusen's away-goals aggregate success against United prevented Sir Alex Ferguson leading his team out at Hampden Park in his home city of Glasgow. With this year's final being held at Old Trafford, the stadium where United defeated Group F rivals Maccabi Haifa 5-2 last week, Sir Alex will be doubly determined to ensure longevity in the competition.

'We are the outsiders'
Whereas United got off to a rousing start, Leverkusen were thumped 6-2 at Olympiakos Piraeus FC. The German side followed that up with a 3-2 1. Bundesliga reverse against SV Werder Bremen. Nevertheless, Toppmöller believes his side will show their true colours at the BayArena tomorrow, saying: "We are the outsiders and that will be an advantage for us."

Goalkeeping decision
Still unable to call on the likes of Diego Placente, Juan and Jens Nowotny, Toppmöller will stick with the squad which lost at the Weserstadion. "At the moment we don't have many options," he said. "All I can do is hope that none of the other players nursing knocks miss the game." The coach will wait until before kick-off to decide who keeps goal, Frank Juric having replaced Hans-Jörg Butt, Leverkusen's established No1, in recent games.

Neville to return
Like Leverkusen, United are without a number of key players - Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Wes Brown to name but three - but Laurent Blanc and Gary Neville could play. The return of Neville, a right-back who has played more Champions League matches than anyone, is particularly poignant after he broke a toe against Leverkusen last season, an injury which ruled him out of the second leg and the FIFA World Cup.

'Avoid at all costs'
The added power in the United defence could prove decisive, with Sir Alex keen to cancel out the opposition. "Leverkusen have got a very good side despite losing Zé Roberto and Michael Ballack," the Scot said. "If you look at their record this season, you will see that they have scored first in every single match. We must avoid that at all costs."

Revenge match?
United enter the game on the back of successive victories for the first time this season, Ruud van Nistelrooij's penalty having been enough to see off Tottenham Hotspur FC on Saturday. The Dutch striker, who topped the scoring charts in the competition last term with ten strikes, does not feel this is a grudge match. "I am not the sort of player who believes in revenge," said the 26-year-old. Revenge match or not, United are perhaps in a position to extinguish Leverkusen's hopes of advancing to the second group stage.

Last updated: 24/09/02 21.02CET