Stern test for Man United

LONDON: Manchester United look set to be without inspirational midfielder Roy Keane for today's English League Cup semi-final, first leg clash with holders Blackburn Rovers. 

Keane, who has only just returned to action after four months out following hip surgery, limped off with a hamstring strain in Saturday's 4-1 FA Cup win over Portsmouth and United are waiting anxiously to discover the extent of the damage to their captain. 

Alex Ferguson's side are hoping to reach their first League Cup final since 1994 but will have to be at their best to open out a clear first-leg advantage at Old Trafford against Graeme Souness's in-form Rovers side. 

Blackburn beat United 1-0 at Ewood Park in the premier league on December 22 and romped to a fine 4-1 success at Aston Villa in the FA Cup on Saturday. 

INJURED:Keane, who just returned from a long lay-off limped off in the FA Cup match against Portsmouth and may sit out today's League Cup semi-final match against Blackburn at Old Trafford.

But Ferguson, who will also probably be without goalkeeper Fabien Barthez and defender John O'Shea through injury, believes Manchester United's European experience will be key. 

“Two-legged semi-finals are always difficult games but our record is terrific in semi-finals, so hopefully we can do the business,” Ferguson told reporters. 

“The first leg being at home makes no difference. Our experience of playing in Europe over the years has eliminated all doubts about whether it's better at home first or away first.  

“The best thing to do is to go and win the two games.” 

Blackburn are likely to recall striker Andy Cole in place of Matt Jansen, who scored twice in the Villa win, his first goals since a motor scooter crash in Italy in June left him with serious head injuries that threatened to end his career. 

Fellow striker Dwight Yorke also scored twice against Villa and he and Cole will be looking forward to reacquainting themselves with their old United team mates on Tuesday. 

One sobering fact for Rovers is that they have not won on their last 12 visits to Old Trafford, their last success coming in 1962. 

Souness told reporters on Monday: “I don't think you could say we are confident – no-one is these days going to Old Trafford.  

“My players have tasted playing in a Cup Final once and they know what a great feeling that is. 

“But we are playing against a team that have tasted success many times and can roll teams over once they get their claws and teeth into you.”         

Despite their enormous success in recent years, United have only won the League Cup once – in 1992. Blackburn's 2-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in last year's final is also their only previous triumph. 

Liverpool, in contrast, have won the trophy six times, most recently in 2001 when they beat Birmingham City on penalties, and they should be confident of reaching the final again when they take on first division Sheffield United. 

But Wednesday's first leg at Bramall Lane is likely to be another big test of character for Gerard Houllier's stuttering side, who have gone 10 league games without a win. 

It has been a different story in cup football, though, with Liverpool recording six victories in the League Cup, UEFA Cup and FA Cup during that period. 

Sunday's gritty 1-0 FA Cup third round win at Manchester City will have encouraged Houllier further and they will need more of the same against Neil Warnock's in-form team. 

Sheffield United are third in division one after a 12-game unbeaten run and have already eliminated Premier League Sunderland and Leeds from the competition. 

They can also take heart from the fact that they beat Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield in the last meeting between the two sides in 1994. – Reuters 

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