FOOTBALL: UNITED EUROPE; Without Eric they are even stronger; Says PAUL LAMBERT; 1997 CHAMPIONS CUP WINNER WITH BORUSSIA DORTMUND.
"United are stronger and better equipped than they were when I faced them with Borussia Dortmund," said the Scotland and Celtic midfielder.
"When I played against them in the semi -finals two years ago everything seemed to go through Eric Cantona. He was clearly a massive influence on how they played, and they seemed to rely so much on what he did.
"Now they are more of a team and because of that they are stronger and I think a much better side."
Lambert, who played in the heart of the Dortmund side which beat United 1-0 home and away in the semi-finals, admitted that very few gave the Germans any chance against England's No 1.
"We were the underdogs," he said. "But we had a very clever coach in Ottmar Hitzfeld. He always concentrated on how we should play and didn't seem to worry over much about what we might expect from the opposition.
"We never consciously set out to mark Cantona, though our coach obviously covered this in his build-up in the two games."
Dortmund indeed blunted United hopes in the first leg in Dortmund, frustrating the efforts of Giggs, Butt, Solskjaer and the disappointing Cantona throughout before producing a late winner from Tretschok.
"One of the highlights of my career has to be beating Manchester United at Old Trafford in the return leg," said Lambert, whose career was transformed by Hitzfeld, who is now in charge of Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich.
"To beat them 1-0 was a fantastic result for us. We managed to get an early goal, scored by Ricken after seven minutes, and again United, who did have chances, just couldn't break us down."
Dortmund went on to beat Juventus in the Final in Munich with Lambert overshadowing Zinedine Zidane in the midfield battle for control.
The Germans were again underdogs, but they won because of the meticulous planning of Hitzfeld. It was a display of disciplined resolve. Two first half goals from Riedle and a late strike from Ricken gave the Germans a stunning 3-1 victory.
"That has to be the greatest day of my career," says Lambert. "But only because it was the Final. I think beating a Manchester United side at Old Trafford on such a vital occasion was something special, not only for me, but for all of us in the Dortmund side."
Lambert, who is having an outstanding season with Celtic, really didn't have to spell out the strength of United, through the striking partnership of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, the lethal crosses of David Beckham, the defensive strength of Jaap Stam, the flank runs of Ryan Giggs, the goal line influence of Peter Schmeichel and the input of Roy Keane.
"They are a team nowadays with outstanding players in every area of the field, and that's what makes them such an fine side today.
``They are better in my opinion than they were two years ago."