Champions League: Ferguson accepts suspension risk

Tuesday, March 13, 2001
Sir Alex Ferguson is willing to let David Beckham and three of his Manchester United team-mates walk a disciplinary tightrope against Sturm Graz.

The reason is that Ferguson is hoping the team can recapture their best form.

He will not change his side even though Beckham, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Mikael Silvestre will be suspended for the quarter-final first leg if they pick up another booking.

The United manager is willing to accept this risk because he is so anxious to field his best team at Old Trafford.

"We have four players on two cautions, which is a bit of worry I suppose," he said.

"But I've got to pick the best team I can in the sense that, yep, we recognise that we're not performing as well as we can and we've got to do something about it.

"So the players playing will want to do something about it."

United are 99.9 per cent certain of reaching the quarter-finals, although Graz could deny them.

Graz, who are fourth in the Austrian First Division, would have to score at least three goals and win by at least two to have any chance of qualifying instead of the Reds.

Even then they would still miss out if Valencia, who have already qualified, lose at home to Panathinaikos in the other Group A game.

Graz coach Ivica Osim admits they are already "probably eliminated" and fears United's poor form could rebound on his side.

"That makes them all the more dangerous, because when they play bad, they can't play bad for much longer," he said.

"In this game you can expect something special from them and certainly the spectators will be expecting that."

Ferguson would certainly like to see an improvement following their dismal displays against Valencia and Panathinaikos.

He took the unusual step of criticising his players and he has challenged them to win back his trust.

Despite United's struggles, they could yet snatch top spot and avoid the other group winners in the last eight if Valencia slip up against Panathinaikos.

Ferguson feels Panathinaikos could do them a favour against the Spaniards, who will be without the suspended Gaizka Mendieta and Mauricio Pellegrino.

"Bearing in mind Mendieta is suspended and Pellegrino is suspended, when you take out a player like Mendieta, you start to get a feeling of just maybe, just maybe," he said.

"Panathinaikos did very well against us for an hour at Old Trafford and they drew 0-0 with Valencia at home.

"In a situation where they can't qualify, you just hope they will enjoy themselves like they did against us last week.

"If we win then we can start worrying about what might happen in Valencia."