x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Ferguson will not risk rushing Ferdinand

The central defender's fitness record patchy, but Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, is keen to field experienced players such as Ryan Giggs, Darren Fletcher and Park Ji-sung against Benfica.

Sir Alex Ferguson will not risk having Rio Ferdinand, whose fitness level has been risky, at best, recently.
Sir Alex Ferguson will not risk having Rio Ferdinand, whose fitness level has been risky, at best, recently.

Rio Ferdinand will miss Manchester United's opening Champions League game against Benfica in Lisbon on Wednesday.

Ferdinand was not in the 19-man squad that flew to Portugal yesterday, meaning United are without their first-choice central defensive pairing as Nemanja Vidic is missing with a calf problem.

There was no place either for Federico Macheda or Mame Biram Diouf, who scored twice for the reserves in their win over Fulham on Monday, but Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra shrugged off hip and knee knocks picked up at Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.

It is not thought Ferdinand has suffered a fresh injury. However, after making his first appearance in a month during the 5-0 romp at the Reebok Stadium, and with Chelsea due at Old Trafford on Sunday, Sir Alex Ferguson is not wanting to take any chances with the 32 year old, whose fitness record has been patchy over the past few years. With Ferdinand out, it is likely to mean a move into central defence for Phil Jones, outstanding at full-back on Saturday, who would be making his debut in the competition.

Michael Owen, fresh from watching his horse Brown Panther finish second in the St Leger, was also named, although if changes are made to Ferguson's attacking line-up, Dimitar Berbatov, last season's joint Golden Boot winner, would appear to have more of a claim.

Ferguson has suggested he will rely on experience, which could be good news for Darren Fletcher, Park Ji-sung and Ryan Giggs, who have been reduced in peripheral roles so far this term.

The United boss must also decide whether to hand Anders Lindegaard his competitive debut, or stick with David de Gea, who has been steadily improving after a shaky start to his United career.

It is less than four months since Ferguson's team were put in their place by Barcelona in the final at Wembley.

However, as comprehensive as that defeat was, Michael Carrick refuses to beat himself up about it.

"The Champions League final doesn't still hurt," said the 30 year old. "It was disappointing because we lost the final but it wasn't a massive failure. I haven't watched it again. I went on my holidays and focused on this season. You have to accept they were good. It is up to us to be better."

The quest for this season's Champions League looks a lot more positive than it did at the start of summer thanks to the infusion of so many electrifying young talents into Ferguson's team.

Carrick, Park, Giggs, Fletcher and Antonio Valencia have been rarely seen this season, the latter duo not even getting a place on the bench so far. That is all likely to change tonight if Ferguson sticks with wanting to give his more experienced campaigners a run out.

Carrick understands why he has had to be so patient. It is not just Ferguson who has been enthused by the contribution of the younger players. He has felt the same emotions. And though Tom Cleverley's absence with damaged ligaments has offered a route back to the first team, the Geordie is disappointed his teammate will be missing.

"The young lads have come out flying," Carrick said. "It is great to see them bursting through. The buzz around the squad is fantastic.

"There is enthusiasm and energy and the whole thing has gone up a notch. That has shown on the pitch, so Tom's injury is a bitter blow."



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