Sir Alex Ferguson says he has “no idea” who will be fit for tomorrow night’s 157th derby as the flu virus sweeps though Manchester United’s camp. The list of players who have contracted the ‘flu over the past week now runs to 12, with a further six players out or rated doubtful for the clash against Manchester City at Eastlands on Wednesday night.
In addition to Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen, who are both suffering from hamstring injuries, Nani has a groin problem and is rated doubtful by manager Ferguson, although that may be a typical pre-match ruse from the Scot.
Long-term injured duo Wayne Rooney and Antonio Valenica definitely miss out, while Ryan Giggs has trained for 10 days following a hamstring complaint but is unlikely to play after being hit with the virus.
In total a full team has been laid low by the ‘flu in the past week, including Anderson, Federico Macheda, Darron Gibson, Jonny Evans, Paul Scholes, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Darren Fletcher, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Carrick.
Meanwhile, Rooney continues to train on his own at Nike World campus just outside Portland, Oregon, with the SPARQ team and is not due to return to Carrington before Saturday. The striker looked fit while put through some simple jogging and ball exercises yesterday.
Ferguson, philosophical about his team’s reduced options, may turn to some of his squad’s lesser lights for the four mile trip across Manchester.
“We’ve still got some players out with ‘flu and some players were sent home yesterday,” said Ferguson.
“So we’re not in a great position at the moment. Hopefully tomorrow we’re better, but there seems to be a lingering aspect of this virus going around and there’s nothing we can do about it. We’ve a strong squad and we just carry on.”
Ferguson, dependent on his players’ fitness, is likely to deploy a loose 4-4-2 formation, with ‘flu-hit Berbatov joined by in-form Javier Hernández in attack and Nani supporting from United’s right flank. Park Ji-Sung will nominally operate from the left, while tucking in to support United’s central midfield.
United beat City on three occasions last season, with late goals proving the difference between the two sides. However, Ferguson is aware that City’s financial power since being taken over by the Abu Dhabi Royal Family in 2008, has closed the gap between the two clubs.
“If clubs have money and want to spend it, they will,” said Ferguson.
“Chelsea did the same. So did Sunderland back in the 1950s. It is not an unusual thing. It is a fact of life.
“The only difference is that City is an untapped well at the moment. But it is difficult to say whether it is inevitable they are going to win the league at some point. It is still a difficult league to win.
“Obviously, in many people’s eyes, having the money is a lot better than not having it.”
The latter Ferguson says without a hint of irony, having defended the Glazer family’s debt-fuelled business model over the past five years.
Despite United’s problems this season closing out wins Ferguson’s team has now emerged victorious six games in a row and is unbeaten in 24 matches spanning two campaigns. United has also won the last four Premier League derbies against City, since a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford in February 2008.
Meanwhile, left-back Evra says that City is obsessed with United, while the Reds focus on winning trophies. Something the Blue half of Manchester has not experienced in more than 34 years.
“I can say it would be nice to beat Manchester City because it is a special game – it is the derby and everyone wants to win – but it is not the priority,” Evra said.
“The priority is to win the league but make sure we don’t lose the derby.”
Asked what he thinks of City’s suggestion the blue half of Manchester is now the best team in the city, the defender said: “They always say that and they never beat us.
“We need to win every game. We don’t need to just win against Manchester City. We look to win the league, that’s it.
“If we win, it is a good result for Manchester United — it will be normal. It will not be so special. When we start the league season, we think about winning every game.”
City manager Roberto Mancini will be without striker Mario Ballotelli, who was sent off against West Bromwich Albion at the weekend. The Italian forward received a straight red card for stamping on Youssuf Mulumbu but has appealed the three match ban.
Emmanuel Adebayor is doubtful with a calf injury but former Red Carlos Tevez has returned from a trip home to Argentina and will play.
City – 451 – Hart; Boateng, Kompany, Kolo Toure, Zabaleta; Milner, Barry, De Jong, Yaya Toure, Silva; Tevez. Subs from: Given, Richards, Kolarov, Johnson, Vieira, Lescott, Wright-Phillips, Jo, Boyata, Bridge.
Van der Sar, Kuszczak, Rafael, Brown, O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Smalling, Evans, Evra, Fabio, Obertan, Bébé, Carrick, Scholes, Fletcher, Anderson, Park, Nani, Berbatov, Hernández, Macheda.
Referee: Chris Foy
Assistant referees: Andy Garratt & Bob Pollock
Fourth official: Lee Probert
City – WWLLLW
United – WWWWWW