It never rains, but it pours. When Sir Alex Ferguson selects his team for the Champions League matchday six against VfL Wolfsburg Tuesday night, he will do so without a dozen players erstwhile at the Scot’s disposal. Critically, Ferguson will have just Patrice Evra and teenager Oliver Gill to call upon in defence for the match against the Germans.
United requires a solitary point to secure top spot in group B but with eight defenders troubling the physio at present Ferguson faces one of his toughest tasks in recent seasons. Wes Brown (hamstring) and Gary Neville (groin) joined Nemanja Vidic (flu) and Rio Ferdinand (calf) on the injury list following United’s victory over West Ham at the weekend. Additionally teenagers Rafael (calf) and Fabio da Silva (groin), and veteran ‘keeper Edwin van der Sar (knee) are also out.
“Wolfsburg will be delighted that we have so many injuries because it’s a big game for them,” Ferguson said today.
“My main concern is getting players back from injury. I have to look at the bigger picture and that means looking to Saturday [against Aston Villa] and future league games.”
While Ferguson rarely fields a team he does not believe can win, the Scot does insists that losing – and finishing second in the group – is no disaster, with high-quality opposition guaranteed whatever the outcome.
“We’ve qualified for the Last 16, and looking at the groups I’m not sure whether first or second really matters,” said the boss.
“So that is a major boost to us. If we are second, I don’t know if it does matter.
“In one group you’ve potentially got AC Milan or Real Madrid, in another you’ve got Barcelona, Inter Milan and Rubin Kazan, another you have Fiorentina and Lyon, or Bordeaux, Bayern and Juventus. You get one of those teams and it doesn’t really matter. They’re all of a similar quality – very good teams.
“The only advantage you’re giving away by finishing second is playing the home game first in the knockout round.”
Ferguson has taken a paired-down 19-man squad to Germany, with Michael Carrick, Darron Gibson and Darren Fletcher likely to fill in at the back. The manager must also decide whether to start Gill, son of managing director David Gill, in what would be his first team début. The central defender has appeared just six times for the reserves this season.
Despite Gill’s presence in the squad Ferguson dismissed any suggestion of nepotism in his pre-match press briefing today.
“It doesn’t concern me. If he is good enough, he plays,” Ferguson told reporters at Wolfsburg’s compact Volkswagen Arena.
“That is the name of the game at Manchester United. I had my own son in the squad for four or five years and he was treated exactly the same as any other member of the squad.
“It will be the same for Oliver.”
In midfield Ferguson has left Ryan Giggs in Manchester, with the legendary Welshman having played the full 90 against the Hammers on Saturday. Anderson, Darron Gibson and Antonio Valencia are likely to start, while the manager will choose between Nani, Gabriel Obertan and Ji-Sung Park on the left wing.
With Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov confirmed injured and not rested for the match – and Federico Macheda also injured – Ferguson has just Michael Owen and Danny Welbeck available in attack.
On the opposite side United will again face Edin Džeko, one of Europe’s most promising strikers. The 6’ 4″ Bosnian, wanted by AC Milan in the summer, is reportedly a target for United as well. Indeed, United’s assistant manager Mike Phelan admitted that the club is monitoring the striker’s progress. But any thoughts of the club spending upwards of £20 million on bringing the forward to Manchester is a rumour quickly dismissed by Ferguson.
“It is an age-old story,” Ferguson told reporters.
“Every time someone does well against Manchester United we are going to buy him the next day.
“There is nothing from Manchester United at this moment concerning Edin Džeko.”
While a draw will guarantee United’s passage to the knock-out phase as group winners, the 2008 champions will not require a result if CSKA Moscow beats Beşiktaş in Turkey on the same night.
United’s injury list
Nemanja Vidic – Virus – 8th December 2009
Edwin Van Der Sar – Knee Injury – 8th December 2009
Fabio da Silva – Groin Strain – 12th December 2009
Rafael da Silva – Calf Strain – 12th December 2009
Wayne Rooney – Hamstring Strain – 19th December 2009
Dimitar Berbatov – Knee Inury – 19th December 2009
Federico Macheda – Calf Strain – 19th December 2009
John O’Shea – Thigh Muscle Strain – January 2010
Jonny Evans – Calf Muscle Strain – January 2010
Rio Ferdinand- Calf Muscle Strain – no return date
Owen Hargreaves – Jumpers Knee – no return date
Gary Neville – Calf/Shin Injury – no return date