Manchester United’s players return from a longer-than-usual Christmas break with little respite in the injury crisis that has engulfed Sir Alex Ferguson’s team in recent weeks. The Scot need no longer worry about a festive season drinking culture but will once again deploy a makeshift defence as United travel to Hull City hoping to improve on two defeats in the past three games.
Ferguson hopes to have either Wes Brown or Nemanja Vidic available for the trip to Hull, although both will definitely feature against Wigan in three days time. Good news also comes in the shape of Brazilian brothers Rafael and Fabio da Silva who, true to form, have each been injured in recent weeks.
However, Ferguson says there is little hope of Rio Ferdinand returning to the team in the near future. Ferdinand, who has appeared just five times this season, last week said there’s is “light at the end of the tunnel” is the search for a cure to a back injury that has plagued the defender for more than a year.
“We gave Rio an injection just over two weeks ago so we have to let that settle for a week then he can go back into the gym work and do some more core work,” Ferguson said.
“We are just hoping that pain goes away. There is no light at the end of the tunnel and it is difficult to put a timescale on a back injury. But I don’t think he is too far away.”
Ferguson says that the best form of attack at Hull is defence. It’s a strategy that United totally failed to enact in the 3-0 away defeat to Fulham last weekend or the 1-0 reverse at home to Aston Villa a fortnight ago. Indeed, Ferguson may revert to a more attacking formation against relegation-threatened Hull, with Dimitar Berbatov in contention to start along side Wayne Rooney despite a knee injury that requires an operation.
“Hull will be encouraged by the fact we have got defenders injured. They will certainly have a go at us,” he said.
“It’s always a dogfight down at the bottom of the table and, as usual, there are six, seven or eight teams involved in that battle.
“We looked fragile once we lost the goal (at Fulham). We got away with playing midfielders at centre-back once or twice, but it proved difficult.
“We have to make sure we are better attacking-wise than we were against Fulham. We didn’t make a lot of chances in the match, we had a lot of possession but it didn’t amount to anything.
“In terms of creating chances, we have to get that creativity, imagination back.
Ferguson says that the injury situation will return to some form of normality by the time United play cup games against Manchester City and Leeds United in the New Year. In the meantime the Scot’s side requires six points in the coming week to keep in touch with Chelsea, who continue to drop points in a season where none of the contenders achieved consistency.
United’s cause will benefit from the return of Darren Fletcher to the heart of Ferguson’s midfield, should either of the da Silva brothers be deemed fit enough to start against Hull. The Scot’s absent destructive abilities have exposed a soft underbelly to Ferguson’s defence in recent weeks.
Ferguson will also choose from Ryan Giggs, Park Ji-Sung, Antonio Valencia, Paul Scholes and Anderson in midfield, with Michael Carrick likely to reprise a role in central defence.
“I think losing to Aston Villa was a bitter disappointment, we made enough chances to win it. Winning your home games can stabilise you from bad results away from home,” Ferguson said Boxing Day.
“It’s unusual for us to lose two games in December, it’s not happened that many times but hopefully by the Leeds United (in the FA Cup third round) game we will have three centre-backs and we can then kick on and get back to our normal selves.
“The way the league is at the moment, I think Arsene Wenger said the other day you could lose seven games and still win the league this year.
“Someone pointed out the recognised top four have lost 41 points between them this season. Nobody would have bet on that.”
Wenger may be proven right in May but with Ferguson’s side slipping to a fifth defeat before Christmas last weekend the side cannot add a sixth at the KC Stadium Sunday.