Champions League – Parker warns United over draw



Former Manchester United and England defender Paul Parker gives his verdict on the Champions League quarter-final draw, and delivers a warning for both UEFA and Alex Ferguson.

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“Strangely, although I don’t think I was the only one who reacted this way, my initial reaction to the draw did not centre on any of the football that will be played next month.

My first thoughts when the ball marked with the name of Manchester United was drawn out were for the safety of fans after their shocking treatment in Rome last year.

This time round, UEFA have to make sure the security of fans is utmost in their minds when United play at the Stadio Olimpico or I fear we could end up with an even worse situation than witnessed on the last two trips over there.

The situation in the Eternal City is sure to be heavily scrutinised, and it deserves to be. What has already happened over there on United’s last two visits was a disgrace, and I’m concerned for the fans once again.

On the pitch, I see the tie as a United win, although much depends on Sir Alex’s changeable tactics.

We’ve already seen in this season’s Champions League that the United boss likes to mix things up, but I’m not convinced he’s always been spot on.

Against Lyon in the last round, United were told to hold back away from home and that nearly got them into serious trouble. They only really started playing when they went a goal down, but then proved just how potent they can be by threatening to score three or four.

I don’t think we can expect a repeat of the 7-1 drubbing of last season – that was clearly a one-off result against a poor Roma team who played with naivety – and United will be pushed a little harder. But I imagine United will ultimately feature in the line-up for the semi-finals.

United were drawn out of the hat second and I think playing away first is by far the better draw. It gives you an idea of what you need to do in the second leg.

In an ideal world, you would like to come back with a two goal lead and a clean sheet. But just one away goal can be so important, because coming back home at 0-0 always makes for nervy, tense games and in that kind of atmosphere, anything can happen.

I like the away goals rule – it makes the ties a lot more interesting. I get the feeling that without it, many teams would play for draws in Europe, and that would make for a rather dull spectacle.

As for Arsenal and Liverpool, you can see why neither camp was left happy by the draw. Nobody wanted to be paired with an English team and these two sides are now going to have to play each other three times in a week.

It will be interesting to see where the two sides’ priorities lie, with the Premier League clash sandwiched in between the two Champions League games.

Liverpool’s title bid is clearly over, but a top four finish is still vital for Rafa Benitez – both in terms of qualifying for the Champions League, and for him keeping his job.

But Benitez has always prized European competition highly – usually over domestic competition – and in all likelihood if he still had to choose this season, he would go for the Champions League.

Arsene Wenger has always put domestic matters first, although I get the feeling this season may be different. He’s had to endure jibes about never having won anything in Europe for too long, and I believe if he was offered a choice between the two trophies right now, he would plump for the Champions League.

It’s a difficult one to call, but over two legs I fancy Arsenal to go into the semi-finals – they’ve already shown they can rip through any defence in the world – where, in all probability, they will meet Chelsea.

The Blues’ clash with Fenerbahce is a foregone conclusion – Avram Grant’s side have got the perfect draw.

The Turkish outfit are having the time of their lives at the moment, but defensively they are very poor and Chelsea will be expected to run riot and ease into the semis.

In the other quarter-final tie, I can’t see beyond Barcelona. Put it this way, if Barca are beaten by Schalke, Frank Rijkaard will have to walk within an hour of the final whistle.

Looking ahead to May, of course I want to see Manchester United in Moscow, but the last thing I want is an all-English final. It takes away the romance of the European Cup and it really doesn’t get me going at all.”

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