Sir Alex Ferguson has ruled out strengthening Manchester United’s midfield this winter, despite a growing list of long-term injuries. Brazilian midfielder Anderson will not return until February after suffering a recurring knee injury, while Tom Cleverley is out until Christmas. The injuries leave Ferguson with just two senior central midfielders – Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick – in an area of the squad that many pundits believe is the club’s weakest.
Injuries leave Ferguson short of cover in midfield ahead of the club’s fixture with high-flying Newcastle United this Saturday, although the Scot is boosted by Wayne Rooney’s return to fitness. Although Rooney is unlikely to play in midfield at the weekend, the Scouser has been frequently used in the engine room this season. However, Ferguson, who has often stated that there “is no value in the market”, now says there are no midfielders available that are good enough for United.
“It is easy to say you are going to buy players but it is not easy to buy them for Manchester United, especially in January,” he said.
“I do not see anyone who could make us a better team. There are two or three players but they are not available, so there is no point even going there. Criticism is fine as long as it’s balanced. Anderson and Tom Cleverley have been injured and those two, in particular, have tremendous potential – they’re fantastic young players. So we’re missing two very important cogs in the machine.
“Darren Fletcher has had his issues and Michael Carrick has been injured a few times, so we’re trying to achieve a consistent midfield operation. And it’s not just the midfield – you’ve also got to look at the back four, which we’ve been changing all the time. We’ve done exceptionally well in spite of that.
“Everyone’s saying ‘go out and buy a central midfield player’. If we’d seen a young Bryan Robson or Roy Keane, we’d have been the first there. The possibilities of improving our team are not lost on us. I don’t see anyone really who that can make us a better team from the players who are possibly available.”
The Scot will, however, welcome back captain Nemanja Vidic, who missed the midweek draw with Benfica through suspension. The Serbian is likely to be partnered by Rio Ferdinand, who will play his fifth game in a row. The former England captain has not achieved that feat in more than two years.
Elsewhere, Ferguson is unlikely to make major changes against a side that suffered its first defeat of the Premier League season last weekend. Indeed, Newcastle’s 3-1 loss to Manchester City is a blip on the Geordies’ record in an otherwise successful campaign built on solid defence, which is the joint meanest in the Premier League. Newcastle’s progress this season is all the more surprising given the loss of Andy Carroll, Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan in recent months.
Meanwhile, Pardew expects both Chieck Tiote and Leon Best to return, while former United winger Gabriel Obertan should face his former club having overcome an injury that ruled the Frenchman out of the defeat to City. And the former West Ham United coach believes that Newcastle’s chances of a first victory at Old Trafford in 39 years is boosted by the Reds’ ‘transitional’ phase this season.
“United have tweaked their game, probably because of what happened in the Champions League final against Barça,” said the Newcastle manager.
“United are looking to improve and have a little bit more movement going on and a little bit more thought as to what they are doing. They are in a little bit of a transition but remain a fantastic and highly motivated team really wanting to close that gap on Manchester City.”
“Rooney’s a big part of United’s change in terms of having a bit more movement and making it a bit more problematic to pin them down. The midfield role does not diminish him. You don’t know where he’s going to go. He’s popping up everywhere.”
“Although they remain a major force, I think to play Manchester United now is probably a slight advantage because they’re in a bit of a transition. They’re getting better but the second half of the season is when they’ll really come into their own.”
However, Newcastle arrive at Old Trafford with Ferguson’s team still smarting from the disappointing draw with Benfica. The Geordies’ visit is made all the harder in the knowledge that the team has not returned from the fixture with three points in the past 27 visits. And while United is currently five points behind City in the Premier League, Ferguson’s side is actually four points better off than at the same stage last season.
Manchester United versus Newcastle United, Premier League, Old Trafford, Saturday 26 November 2011, 3pm
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Fletcher, Carrick, Young; Rooney; Hernandez. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Rafael, Pogba, Evans, Fryers, Carrick, Berbatov, Park, Valencia, Diouf.
Newcastle (4-5-1): Krul; Simpson, Coloccini, S Taylor, R Taylor; Obertan, Guthrie, Cabaye, Gutierrez; Ben Arfa; Ba. Subs from: Sa Ameobi, Elliot, Santon, Perch, Gosling, Smith, Lovenkrands, Sh Ameobi
- Javier Hernández was on target again for United’s third successive 1-0 win since the 6-1 loss to City in September. The Mexican has now got five goals this season from just 16 attempts at goal. The goal lifted him 33 places to 35th in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
- Michael Carrick covered more ground than any other United player against Swansea with 9,020 metres;
- Wayne Rooney (40) and Carrick (39) were the two players to complete the most passes in their opponent’s half in the game against Swansea, as Rooney maintained his position as the top ranked player in the Index;
- Another clean sheet also enabled David de Gea to become the third ranked goalkeeper in the Index behind Joe Hart and Brad Friedel;
- Newcastle’s remarkable unbeaten run came to an end against City, in a game in which Steve Taylor made four blocks. Only Vincent Kompany has made more in a single game this season with five against Wigan Athletic.
Referee: Mike Jones (Chester)
Assistants: D Bond, J Flynn
Fourth Official: C Foy