Rio Ferdinand will miss Saturday’s Manchester derby, with the 32-year-old defender still suffering from the calf injury sustained last weekend. With Jonny Evans also injured, Chris Smalling is set to start alongside Nemanja Vidic in a reshuffled Manchester United defence – it’s a back-line that will face more than £100 million worth of Manchester City attacking talent at Old Trafford.
Ferdinand suffered the injury in the warm up to last week’s defeat against Wolverhampton Wanderers, with Evans lining up. But with the Irishman also injured during training with Northern Ireland this week two changes are forced on the United manager.
Indeed, Ferdinand’s loss is a huge blow not only to United’s hopes in the derby but potentially for both club’s title ambitions this season. Should City win at Old Trafford Roberto Mancini’s outfit will close to within two points of United. Should the Reds triumph then City’s hopes will be all but dashed for another season.
“Rio Ferdinand got a calf injury last week. He will be out for a couple of weeks,” Ferguson told the press on Friday.
“Jonny Evans was injured in training with Northern Ireland. He is out so Chris Smalling will play. I am sure he will do well.”
“It could have happened at any time. It is not as if it is anything to do with his back. That was our main concern last year but his back has been fine.
“You have to remember Rio has been in first-team football since he was 17. It is a long time. He will pick up little strains, like a lot of players do. This is not a long-term thing. It is a couple of weeks.”
The pressure will now pass to Smalling, who has started just 1 games for United this season, primarily in the Carling Cup and Champions League. However, the 21-year-old former Fulham defender has looked composed if a little raw during a fledgling career with the club and the derby will surely represent the biggest match of the £10 million signing’s career.
“Chris has made excellent progress this season,” added Ferguson.
“He got a bit of tightness in his back last Friday, which is why I used Jonny Evans as a substitute last week. We are very pleased with him. He has been outstanding since he came to the club.
“He has played a few games now. Of course, he lacks that big-game experience but in terms of the experience he has had, he has used it well and he has done well.”
The reshuffled defence hardly helps Ferguson, whose team lost so tamely at Molineux. While no motivation is required for the players against City, the Scot must still be concerned about the nature of United’s demise last weekend.
The United manager must also decide whether to deploy both Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov against City, whose likely three-man midfield posses Ferguson a tactical headache. Berbatov may find himself on the bench or Rooney wide left if the Scot chooses to match the opposition’s tactical system.
Park Ji-Sung could also play after recovering from the Asian Cup. The South Korean captain retired after the games, in which his side reached the semi-final before losing on penalties to Japan. But in central midfield Ferguson also faces a dilemma, with Michael Carrick woeful against Wolves and Anderson overlooked in recent weeks.
It’s a crucial call, with Ferguson acknowledging that the match could decide the Premier League’s destination this season.
“It’s a derby and it could be decisive in terms of the championship,” said the 69-year-old Scot.
“For both teams it could be decisive, and that’s what makes it such an interesting game. We just hope our home form stacks up, because I’ve been very pleased with our home form this season.”
In that there is a crumb of comfort after last weekend’s events. While United has performed poorly away from Old Trafford some of the football at home has inspired. The 7-1 thrashing of Blackburn Rovers was followed in quick succession by a 5-0 hammering of Birmingham City.
Meanwhile, City could be without both Mario Ballotelli and Nigel de Jong, with the pair both suffering injuries. Most intriguing though will be City’s formation after the ultra-negative approach in the tie between the sides at Eastlands earlier this season. New signing £27 million Edin Džeko may start on the bench unless Mancini changes the habit of a season and throws caution to the wind in a game the Italian is playing down.
“It’s a derby, a big game in Manchester when the top of the table plays the third in the table, but not the most important this season,” said Mancini.
“I’d like to win at Old Trafford. It is better to win there than at home…better for our heads and our personalities.
“Nobody would have thought that United would have lost at Wolves. And now The Europa League and Champions League starts again.
“Maybe United has more of a winning mentality than us because they have been unbeaten for a long time, but only this is the difference…when we start to win trophies then that can change. I think it is very important for us to win something at the end of the season.”
Probably the difference between Mancini keeping his job or otherwise.
Wolves – 451 – Hart; Boateng, Kompany, Toure K, Kolarov; Toure Y, Vieira, Barry; Milner, Tevez, Silva. Subs from: Given, Lescott, Jo, Zabaleta, Dzeko, Wright-Phillips, Razak, Guidetti
United – 442 – van der Sar; Rafael da Silva, Vidic, Smalling, Evra; Nani, Scholes, Fletcher, Giggs; Rooney, Berbatov. Subs from: Kuzszazk, Evans, Brown, Gibson, Owen, Bébé, Lindegaard, Fabio da Silva, O’Shea, Obertan, Hernández, Anderson, Park Ji-Sung, Carrick.
Referee: Andre Marriner
Assistant referees: Adam Watts & Scott Ledger
Fourth official: Martin Atkinson
United – WWWWWL
City – WWLDDW