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Alarm bells sounding for Everton

Everton
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Team-by-team guide

Group E: Manchester United | Rangers | Panathinaikos | VfB Stuggart
Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group F | Group G | Group H


Manchester United

Star Turn: Ruud van Nistelrooy

The £19million United paid PSV Eindhoven for him three years ago now seems a snip. The goals have come thick and fast both in the Premiership and in the Champions League and there can be little doubt that he is one of the best strikers in the world.

Ruud van Nistelrooy (MikeEgerton/Empics)

He has it all: great pace, the ability to turn and shoot in an instant, single-mindedness and sheer enthusiasm for putting the ball in the back of the net. Comparisons with the former Dutch striking great Marco van Basten are totally justified.

Scored 14 Champions League goals last season and could do even better in the new campaign.

New Face: Cristiano Ronaldo

United may have eventually missed out on Brazilian attacking maestro Ronaldinho, who instead opted for Barcelona. But they have certainly brought in another potential world-beater in the shape of the Portuguese teenager.

Signed from Sporting Lisbon for £12million, the Madeira-born frontrunner is one of the most exciting young players in European football today and has already won over the Old Trafford faithful with his mesmerising dribbling skills and flamboyance.

His arrival at United gives manager Sir Alex Ferguson all sorts of attacking options. He can play on the right, left or through the middle.

One to Watch: Eric Djemba-Djemba

Although reportedly wanted by Valencia and Juventus, the outstanding young Cameroon midfielder only had eyes for Manchester United this summer, signing for the Red Devils from French club Nantes in a £3.5million deal.

An athletic and combative defensive midfielder, who can also play at full-back or in central defence, the 22-year-old has very much been on the fast-track to stardom. He only made his professional debut for Nantes at the start of the 2000-01 season but soon established himself as a mainstay of the team with a succession of purposeful performances in French domestic football and the Champions League.

Made his international debut for Cameroon against Tunisia in January 2002 and helped his country claim the African title the same year.

Tactics:

Of the opinion that 4-4-2 will not cut it at the highest level in Europe, Sir Alex Ferguson is likely to employ a 4-2-3-1 system, in which three attacking midfielders - Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (right), Paul Scholes (central, when he recovers from a hernia injury) and Ryan Giggs (left) - flood forward in support of lone striker Ruud van Nistelrooy. New attackers Cristiano Ronaldo and the Frenchman David Bellion (ex-Sunderland) are much more than bench-warmers.

In defensive midfield skipper Roy Keane and either Eric Djemba-Djemba or Brazilian World Cup-winner Klberson will mind the back door, while Sir Alex will be banking on a largely youthful rearguard featuring John O'Shea, Mikael Silvestre and Rio Ferdinand in association with experienced right-back Gary Neville. With Fabien Barthez out of favour, the American Tim Howard steps in.

Verdict: Provided Van Nistelrooy stays fit, the semi-finals are a realistic possibility.


  • Glasgow Rangers
  • Star Turn: Shota Arveladze

    Bought from Ajax Amsterdam in 2001, the Georgian marksman will never score a more important goal than the late winner he conjured up in Rangers' victory at FC Copenhagen in the third qualifying round of this season's Champions League, a strike worth at least £10million in prize money.

    Manager Alex McLeish (PhilWalter/GettyImages)

    A proven goalscorer at international and club level for almost a decade, he got his big break in the summer of 1997 when signed by Ajax from Turkish side Trabzonspor to replace the Milan-bound Patrick Kluivert, finishing his first season in Holland on top of the scoring charts with 25 goals.

    Nicknamed 'Mr Bean' during his time at Ajax, he made his international debut for Georgia in February 1994 against Slovenia and is now homing on a half-century of full caps.

    New Face: Nuno Capucho

    Fresh from helping FC Porto to a memorable treble of UEFA Cup, Portuguese League and Cup, the 31-year-old Portuguese midfielder decided the time was right to try his luck abroad, joing the Gers for a knock-down £750,000.

    Strong-running, industrious and skilful, he is normally used as right-winger but proved his versatility by playing on the left flank in the Porto's UEFA Cup final victory over Celtic back in May. He is more creator than goalscorer but he is no slouch at finishing, averaging a half-dozen strikes per season in his six years at Porto.

    A member of the Portuguese side which won the World Youth Cup in 1991, he represented his country at Euro 2000 and the last World Cup.

    One to Watch: Paolo Vanoli

    Much underrated left-sided midfielder or left-back who arrived at Ibrox in the close season from Serie A side Bologna.

    Regularly played in Europe during a two-year spell with Parma (1998-2000) and was a key man for them in the Final of the 1999 UEFA Cup against Marseille, heading the second goal in his team's 3-0 win.

    He has been ignored by successive Italian national coaches since appearing twice for the "Azzurri" in the 1999-00 season. But at least he had the satisfaction of scoring on his international debut aagainst Belgium in November 1999.

    Tactics:

    Gers boss Alex McLeish often plumps for a 4-4-2 but he is certainly not afraid to use three out-and-out attackers at times, calling on the trident of predator Michael Mols through the middle and Shota Arveladze and Peter Lovenkrands out wide.

    McLeish's biggest headache is midfield. Ronald De Boer is recovering after a knee operation and skipper Barry Ferguson has exited stage left for Blackburn Rovers. Much will depend on the form of outstanding young Spanish playmaker Mikel Arteta.

    Verdict: The Gers could have been drawn in a tougher group. May progess if they do not concentrate solely on the Battle of Britain games with Manchester United.


  • Panathinaikos
  • Star Turn: Emmanuel Olisadebe

    Now that top scorer Nikos Liberopoulos has left left for AEK Athens, the onus will be on the powerfully-built Nigerian-born Polish international to fill the goalscoring vacum.

    Emmanuel Olisadebe (TonyMarshall/Empics)

    Bought from Polonia Warsaw early in 2001, he is front-man of skill and pace and is a particular threat when running at defences from deep. He is, though, very much a confidence player. When in form, he takes some stopping. But he does become discouraged at times when things go against him.

    Granted Polish citizenship in the summer of 2000, he was a key figure in the country's qualification for World Cup 2002, netting no less than eight times en route to the Far East.

    New Face: Lucian Sanmartean

    Promised a big-name signing, some Panathinaikos fans grumbled when they heard their club had only signed the 23-year-old attacking midfielder from Romanian provincial outfit Gloria Bistrita. But after seeing the youngster in action, they are rapidly changing their minds.

    While comparisions with the great Romanian international Gheorghe Hagi are a little wide of the mark, Sanmartean is very talented all the same, bristling with flair, hard to dispossess and always on hand with a defence-splitting pass.

    A former star of the Romanian Under 21s, he won his first full cap last season in a friendly with Croatia.

    One to Watch: Giorgios Seitaridis

    Very accomplished young right-back or midfielder who was in great form for Panathinaikos last term and also established himself as a regular for Greece.

    Technically sound, an intense competior, purposeful and blessed with a good attitude, the 22-year-old is already being watched by a number of overseas clubs and it is surely a matter of time before he emigrates.

    Joined 'Pana' in January 2001 from Giannina and two months later scored on his Champions League debut in a 1-1 draw with Manchester United in Athens.

    Tactics:

    Their new coach, the Israeli, Itzhak Schum has been advocating flexibility since taking over this summer, using a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 at home and 4-5-1 on their travels. But with the club bringing in seven new players in the close season, he is struggling to have everybody on the same page.

    Schum will be relying heavily on the team's spine: veteran keeper Antonios Nikopolodis, the Greek-Danish centre-back paring of Sotiris Kyrgiakos and Rene Henriksen, midfielder Angelos Basinas and striker Emmanuel Olisadebe.

    Verdict: A long shot to make the next round.


  • VfB Stuttgart
  • Star Turn: Kevin Kuranyi

    Almost totally unknown at the start of last season, the youngster was thrown in at the deep end when first-choice striker Sean Dundee suffered a knee ligament injury just two weeks into the campaign and how well he responded, scoring 15 goals as Stuttgart surpassed all expectations by taking the Bundesliga runners-up spot.

    Kevin Kuranyi (StuartFranklin/GettyImages)

    Incredible to think that Stuttgart coach Felix Magath has admitted to once doubting Kuranyi's ability to make the grade. The 21-year-old looks a class act in every way: robust, exceptionaly good on the ball for a tall man and and very strong in the air.

    Born in Brazil to a German father and a Panamanian mother, he spent the first 14 years of his life in Rio de Janeiro. But fortunately for Germany he has chosen to play his international football for them.

    New Face: Cacau

    A promising young Brazilian striker, who joined Stuttgart on a Bosman free this summer from relegated Nurnberg, he is quick and skilful but needs to be much more consistent. One day, he can be devastating, the next anonymous. He must also improve his discipline. He seemed to be collecting bokings last season.

    His last few months at Nurnberg saw him come into open conflict with the club's management. His form tailed off drastically in the second-half of the season and it was assumed that he was going through the motions before making a getaway.

    Previously with the Nacional club in Sao Paulo, the 22-year-old's biggest asset is his fierce right-footed shoting.

    One to Watch: Alexander Hleb

    Everyone at Stuttgart was sad to see Bulgarian playmaker Krassimir Balakov hang up his boots recently after a long period of distinguished service for the southern German club. But VfB have a ready-made replacement in the shape of the cultured young Belarus midfielder.

    No wonder many observers of the German game considerd him the best young player in the Bundesliga last term. Able to play out wide on the left or centrally, he constantly caught the eye with his blinding pace, mazy dribbling and clever use of the ball.

    He needs to improve his goalscoring; he only managed four last season in the Bundesliga. But he is a special talent nonetheless.

    Tactics:

    The scorer of the winning goal when Hamburg upset the odds to beat Juventus in the 1983 European Cup Final, Felix Magath has since developed into a highly competent coach, one with an excellent grasp of tactical matters.

    Basically, Magath plays with two variations of 4-4-2. In the first, the midfield quartet is made up of three holding players and one central playmaker; in Plan B he goes with a pair of enforcers in the engine room (usually the Croat pairing of skipper Zvonomir Soldo and Jurica Vranjes) and employs attacking midfielders Horst Heldt and Aliaksandr Hleb in wide areas. The front-line will be made up of Kevin Kuranyi plus either Cacau or the Greek international Ioannis Amanatidis.

    Verdict: Some say they over-achieived by coming second in the Bundesliga last season. An essentially young, inexperienced side may find the Champions League a bridge too far.