Fergie: Inter tie can be won and lost on Tuesday
Sir Alex Ferguson is convinced the decisive blow in Manchester United's eagerly-awaited Champions League tie with Inter Milan will be struck in the San Siro on Tuesday night. While Jose Mourinho confidently predicts the clash between the runaway league leaders in Italy and England will go to extra-time at Old Trafford in a fortnight, Ferguson is looking at a far more rapid conclusion.
And that means an injury-hit United side grabbing a priceless away goal.
"I don't think it will go to extra-time - it will be decided tomorrow," said Ferguson.
"If we score we will have a great chance."
Not that Ferguson is dismissing Inter. Mourinho has only lost one of 12 head-to-head duels with the Scot, so that would be a foolhardy move.
While the United chief has previously concluded Barcelona are the major obstacle to continued English domination of the competition, he recognises the contest facing his team would not have looked out of place in Rome on May 27.
"At this moment in time you cannot split the teams," he said.
"Inter have won Serie A three times in a row and are going to win it for a fourth time. They have experience; they have a really outstanding manager and some terrific footballers.
"It is a really big game. It would have been a great final."
The one blot on Ferguson's landscape is a chronic absence of defenders.
In addition, Wes Brown and Gary Neville are longer-term absentees, leaving Ferguson desperately hoping John O'Shea shrugs off the heel injury that kept him out at the weekend or Evans makes a miraculous recovery knowing unless they both make it, either Fabio Da Silva or Darren Fletcher will be required to fill the right-back berth.
"My options? I panic!" said Ferguson, only half-jokingly when asked what he would do if both his Irishmen were ruled out.
"I suppose I could play Dimitar Berbatov as a sweeper."
Ferguson's problem is compounded by his opinion that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is Inter's best player, if not quite the world's best as Mourinho boldly claimed a couple of months ago.
The Swede has often failed to do himself justice on the biggest stage. But this season has been Ibrahimovic's best so far, which was threatening to cause the Red Devils a problem even before their defence was ripped apart.
"Without question, Ibrahimovic is their star player," said Ferguson.
"I have watched him for many years now. He has developed and is at an age now where you expect a bit of maturity. He is getting all the praise he deserves."