Mancheser United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson finds his troops, returning from a two week international break, in less than fine shape. The Scot’s heart must sink in each of these windows. Definitely out of today’s match with Everton are Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville, Danny Wellbeck and Fabio da Silva. Add to the list John O’Shea, Jonny Evans and Michael Carrick.
Yet, Ferguson must rally his troops, and not just O’Shea and Darron Gibson from the Irish camp that so controversially lost the World Cup playoff midweek. With recent defeats to Liverpool and Chelsea fresh in the mind, United’s manager faces a somewhat clichéd ‘must win’ match against Liverpool’s second team. Indeed, United faces the prospect of starting the match eight points behind Chelsea. It’s a two-horse race that threatens a runaway leader unless the home side takes three points today.
“Hopefully we can get a back four together that can get us through this difficult game against Everton,” said Ferguson.
“Evans is a doubt. He came off at half-time for Northern Ireland. O’Shea also came off for Ireland against France. O’Shea’s got a thigh problem and I don’t think he’ll make the Everton game. We’re fighting hard to get Evans fit.
“Fortunately he came off at half-time, which has given us seven days to get him fit, but he’s not trained yet so we’re not sure if he’ll be fit.
The Scot is able to call both central defender Nemanja Vidic, who has not played for three weeks, and winger Ji-Sung Park. Each played in Serbia’s 1-0 victory over South Korea in Belgrade last weekend. Park’s return, coming as it does amid Nani’s dismal performances in recent matches, is a boon to the manager who highly rates last season’s Champions League final starter.
“On the plus side, Vidic played 70 minutes for Serbia against South Korea, so he should be available to play against Everton,” confirmed Ferguson on Friday.
“But Gary Neville is still suspended, Ferdinand is still injured, and Fabio Da Silva suffered a groin injury in training, so we’ve got a wee bit of patching-up to do in defence.
“Rio’s problem is back-related. It started off as a calf injury, which can quite often be back-related.
“We’re not putting a timescale on it, but we’re not talking months. Rio will probably be back in training in two or three weeks’ time.”
Returning to Old Trafford will be Louis Saha, the French striker who’s time at United as so blighted by injuries following a £12 million move from Fulham in 2004. But the forward, who scored 26 goals in 86 Premier League games for United, is in a rich vein of form for the Merseyside club and will relish the chance to put one over his former teammates.
Ferguson will also be offered the opportunity to run-the-rule over Jack Rodwell, the multi-talented midfielder, linked with a £20 million move to Old Trafford in recent weeks. The midfielder, who Rant predicted would be nominated PFA Young Player of the year this season, will line up for Everton if he overcomes a minor groin injury.
David Moyes on the opposite bench, so often linked with the manager’s post at Old Trafford when Ferguson retires, encouters United’ for the first time since last season’s controversial FA Cup Semi final. The younger Scot accused referee Mike Riley of being a United fan – a charge of bias that the FA did not punish Moyes for – and then saw his team win after the aforementioned official missed an obvious United penalty.
United, likely to revert to a traditional two-man attack, with England Captain Wayne Rooney partnering Bulgarian all-time top goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov. The pair, each in fine individual form, will need to find the net more often than in recent matches if United is to turn around a significant Premier League points difference.