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United seek scoring remedy

Published: Wednesday 3 November 2004, 12.54CET
Manchester United FC are looking to improve in front of goal at Old Trafford against AC Sparta Praha.

Tournament statistics

Man. UnitedSparta Praha

Goals scored14
Attempts on target34
Attempts off target47
Fouls committed137
Yellow cards10
Red cards0

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Published: Wednesday 3 November 2004, 12.54CET

United seek scoring remedy

Manchester United FC are looking to improve in front of goal at Old Trafford against AC Sparta Praha.

By Jonathan Caswell in Manchester

For a team boasting the second greatest number of goals in UEFA Champions League history, Manchester United FC are faced with an odd statistic as they prepare for Wednesday's Group D encounter at Old Trafford with AC Sparta Praha.

Scoring problems
The 1999 winners have not won a Premiership match this season by more than one goal and squandered several chances in their 2-0 defeat at Portsmouth FC at the weekend, so Sir Alex Ferguson is particularly relieved by the return of the prolific Ruud van Nistelrooij.

Remarkable record
The Dutch international, who has scored 31 goals in 37 appearances for United in UEFA competitions, has missed the last two domestic matches through suspension and his manager underlined his importance to the team. "Van Nistelrooij's scoring record is incredible but it will come for all [the United forwards] because they are scorers of goals," Sir Alex said. "A lack of goals can drain confidence in strikers and it has always been that way; even the best ones are not unbreakable."

Rich options
Despite also boasting the considerable striking talents of Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha and Alan Smith, United have scored just eleven times in as many Premiership matches, with their forward quartet contributing only six. However, another returning player, captain Roy Keane, is confident the situation will soon improve.

'Matter of time'
"I really think it is only a matter of time before our scoring changes and hopefully that will be on Wednesday," said Keane. "I hope to make a real impact but it's been a stop-start season for me, so I have had to bide my time."

Packed midfield
Sparta coach František Straka deployed five men in midfield in the goalless draw in Prague a fortnight ago, and said he would employ a similar strategy at Old Trafford. Despite that, Straka believes his side must be positive, saying: "We want to play well and take control of the ball. We can expect an aggressive style from United from the very first minute, but I think we will play the same game as we did at home and we will do the best we can."

Potent threat
Straka, whose side beat SK Sigma Olomouc 2-0 on Saturday, was aware of the threat posed by Van Nistelrooij, but believes the home side will be dangerous from a wide variety of areas. "United are not only about Van Nistelrooij," Straka said. "There is Rooney, and [Ryan] Giggs, who are both excellent and we have to concentrate on all of their players because they have a deadly instinct."

Lone forward
Tomáš Jun will have a crucial role as Sparta's lone forward, as his coach was quick to recognise. "It won't be easy for Tomáš, but I have told him he is a key part of the team," Straka said of his 21-year-old striker. "He is a very good player and can only get better and we have told him how important it is for him to finish the job."

Poborský return
While the Sparta coach admits that being in charge of the team against Manchester United at Old Trafford is "the biggest game of my career", it will also be a special night for Sparta midfield player Karel Poborský, who spent two seasons with United in the mid-1990s. Straka is expecting an influential display from his captain, saying: "Poborský is up for this game and it is a very big one for him. It will be special for him – he is coming back to meet Sir Alex and shake his hand."

Last updated: 03/11/04 21.08CET