The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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United engine needs oiling

The organisers of Manchester Unitedís summer tour to the United States remained phlegmatic Thursday about the probable absence of David Beckham, pointing to other red-shirted show-stoppers like Ruud van Nistelrooy and Paul Scholes.

United might also bring some new faces to the land of opportunity. Paul Robinson and Patrick Kluivert were the names being mentioned on Thursday as United came to terms with their departure from Europe at the manicured hands of Real Madrid.

No one at Old Trafford will panic simply because they sustained damage from one of the most adroit teams in the history of football. No one will leap into the Ship Canal while the players still show the resilience seen against Real, however much in vain. Yet no one will shrink from corrective surgery. The history of United in defeat is that they come out fighting and often armed with a chunky chequebook.

A move for Robinson, the England goalkeeper belonging to a cash-starved Leeds United who need to sell during the summer, would address the problem of Fabien Barthezís occasional vulnerability.

Barcelonaís Kluivert would give Van Nistelrooy close support, although their pairing has not always flourished in the orange of Holland. Ronaldinho has also been mooted.

A goalkeeper is clearly required but Unitedís desire for another striker needs querying. Scoring is not a problem for United, who have hit 98 Premiership and Champions League goals this season.

Even without Beckham, an attacking quartet of Van Nistelrooy fed by Scholes, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ryan Giggs demands respect.

Unitedís trouble lies in the engine room, where Roy Keane is clearly running out of steam in the most demanding matches. Zinedine Zidane, Guti and Claude Makalele kept working the ball around the once-dominant Irishman. Nicky Butt charged about manfully, attempting to put out fires lit by Zidane, but he was covering for his captainís weaknesses. Unitedís defence was left desperately exposed.

If Ferguson were to select his back four on form, rather than transfer fee, Rio Ferdinand would not start.

Wes Brown and Mikael Silvestre would command the centre while Gary Neville and the irrepressible John OíShea filled the full-back slots.

Ferdinand has been caught out this season, his concentration and reactions occasionally found wanting, but the England defender, who was outstanding during the World Cup, has too much natural talent not to come good.

Ferguson has options enough in defence to find the right blend without recourse to recruitment drives. It is in defending his defence that Ferguson has work to do. The midfield shield needs mending.

Another player whose future at United has been questioned is Giggs. The thought of ushering the Welshman towards Italyís Serie A may have been tempered by his form in recent weeks (barring Wednesday) but it would not be the greatest surprise if United moved for either of two left-footed talents, Damien Duff of Blackburn Rovers, or Leeds Unitedís Harry Kewell, whose contract expires in 2004, leaving Leeds only this summer to earn a decent sum for the much admired Australian.

Kewell may be tempted by Serie A and this seasonís Champions League has confirmed that the Italians are back with a vengeance, now occupying three of the semi-final places.

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