Manchester United will be without captain Nemanja Vidić for the remainder of this season after Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed that the 29-year-old Serbian ruptured his left cruciate ligament against FC Basel on Wednesday night. News of Vidić’s prognosis adds to a growing list of absentees ahead of United’s weekend Premier League fixture, with manager Ferguson missing xxx first team players for the Midlanders’ visit to Old Trafford.
Losing Vidić, easily United’s best player this season – subjectively, or by any objective measure – is a huge blow to United’s ambitions in the three competitions that Ferguson’s outfit will still contest. Indeed, the news capped off one of Ferguson’s worst weeks in the past five years after United was knocked out of the Champions League.
But with a busy Christmas period coming up Ferguson says that United’s squad will cope with the loss – both of Vidić and to Basel in Europe’s premier competition – starting against Wolves on Saturday afternoon.
“We thought it was a bad one,” Ferguson said of Vidić’s injury.
“He’s out for the season. It’s not unexpected but it’s still bad news. He’ll see a specialist on Monday to work out the progress of when he has the operation. It won’t be immediate as we have to let the swelling come down. We’ll now have to choose between Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. I thought Rio had his best game of season on Wednesday. His experience will be vital.
“[Vidić] is a loss and we missed him in the early part of the season for five weeks with his calf injury against West Brom. He’s such a dominant character, particularly his defending in the penalty box. That’s always a strong feature of his game.”
In the Serbian’s stead will step one of Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans or Phil Jones, with the Northern Irishman favourite for selection. But central defence is only one of Ferguson’s selection headaches; the Scot will also be without strikers Michael Owen and Javier Hernández, midfielders Anderson and Tom Cleverley, and full-backs Rafael and Fabío da Silva.
However, the Scot’s options are supplemented by Michael Carrick’s return to the side, after the Geordie missed United’s European defeat through suspension. Dimitar Berbatov, who has missed two matches with a calf strain, could feature from the bench. Fit again Danny Welbeck is likely to start along side Wayne Rooney in attack. The Scouser has not scored in eight matches since netting a double against Otelul Galati in the Champions League, and not from open-play since 18 September.
Meanwhile, Ferguson defended his under-fire players, after United departed the Champions League at the group stage for the first time since 2005 and dropped into the Europa League. Despite summer calls from supporters and pundits to invest in experience, Ferguson has long trusted his squad’s young stars – blaming the media “hounds” for placing the club in the spotlight following Wednesday’s defeat.
“When the likes of Giggs and the other young lads came in to the side, they came in for criticism early on, particularly against Aston Villa [in 1995]. We’ve experienced that many times over the years,” added Ferguson.
“But the Wes Browns and John O’Sheas and Darren Fletchers all became the foundation of the club and that’s what will happen with these young players. They’ve achieved many great things so far. Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck have played for their country – they will be the foundation of the club in a few years’ time, there’s no question about that.
“They had a nasty experience on Wednesday but they know they have the trust of me and my coaches, and they will not be hounded because of one bad performance. Time will prove us right. We’re not the only club in the world that can’t have a bad result. Everyone gets them. How you recover from them is important and it’s good for our young players in particular.
“It’s a situation we have to deal with. I don’t think anyone relishes seeing criticism of themselves. But I’ve said it time and time again: you only need to lose two games here and the hounds are out. It [the criticism] is something I don’t really follow, to be honest, because I know the work we’re doing here is the right work. The players we have here are the right players. We always want to be better, we want to be perfect, but you never can be perfect. Perseverance is necessary to try and achieve that, and that’s what this club is good at.”
That road will start on Saturday against a Wolves side that has lost seven of its last 10 fixtures in all competitions. However, Mick McCarthey’s side comes into the fixture on the back of a win against struggling Sunderland last weekend. Midfielder Karl Henry will start after serving a one-match ban, but defender Jody Craddock has a hamstring injury and is likely to miss out. Roger Johnson could come back into the side.
And despite Wolves’ renaissance last weekend Ferguson could hardly hope for a better opponent to begin United’s own recovery. The Midlanders’ have not won at Old Trafford in 31 years, and victory for the hosts will bring Ferguson’s side to within two points of leaders Manchester City.
United begins a run of five Premier League games, all against teams in the bottom half of the table, before a tougher run of fixtures in the New Year. Meanwhile, City faces games against Chelsea and Arsenal in the next fortnight. It could prove a pivotal month in the Premier League title race.
Manchester United versus Wolverhampton Wanderers, Premier League, Old Trafford, Saturday 10 December 2011, 3pm
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Jones, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Nani, Fletcher, Carrick, Young; Rooney; Welbeck. Subs from: Lindegaard, Smalling, Fryers, Gibson, Park, Valencia, Diouf, Macheda.
Wolves (4-4-2): Hennessey; Ward, Johnson, Berra, Zubar; Edwards, Hunt, O’Hara, Jarvis; Fletcher, Doyle. Subs from: De Vries, Elokobi, Stearman, Hammill, Milijas, Ebanks-Blake, Guedioura, Forde, Elokobi, Doherty, De Vries.
- United recorded another 1-0 win in the Premier League game against Aston Villa, with Phil Jones scoring his first senior goal in 63 appearances. Jones has recorded just nice efforts on goal, including his goal against Villa, this season;
- Nani covered the most ground for United in the game against with 6.85 miles, and the Portuguese also provided the cross for Jones’ goal. Nani remains the most prolific crosser of the ball in the Premier League with 56 crosses delivered, while team mate Ashley Young has made 45 crosses;
- Despite losing his top spot in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index Rooney remains the striker who has done the most for his colleagues, completing 361 passes in his opponent’s half, more than any other forward in the league;
- United has scored 31 goals so far this season from 208 efforts at goal, a conversion rate of 15 per cent. However, rivals Manchester City has scored 48 goals from 252 efforts, a conversion rate of 19 per cent;
- For the visitors Steven Fletcher scored twice late in the second half to rescue three points for Wolves against Sunderland last weekend;
- Fletcher’s goals were his fourth and fifth of the season, an efficient conversion rate with the striker making making just 17 attempts at goal this season – a 29 per cent conversion rate;
- David Edwards covered the most ground for Wolves against Sunderland, with 6.8 miles, but Karl Henry is the club’s hardest worker over the season, averaging 7.29 miles per game.
Referee: Michael Oliver (Ashington)
Assistants: C Breakspear, D Bryan
Fourth Official: C Foy