Sir Alex Ferguson will rotate his squad for the visit of Wigan Athletic tonight as Manchester United aims to end the year just two points adrift of Premier League leaders Chelsea. With club captain Gary Neville again fit, Ferguson will be without just Rio Ferdinand and Edwin van der Sar as United’s defensive injury crisis finally abates.
On the eve of Sir Alex’ birthday the Scot will deploy a rotated side for the 100th match in succession. Not since the closing stages of the 2007/8 season has the Scot picked an unchanged team. But ever wary of the load placed on his players – especially at Christmas – Ferguson is likely to bring Michael Owen, Anderson, Paul Scholes and Gabriel Obertan into tonight’s team.
But the United manager, 68 tomorrow, must do without Edwin van der Sar who has been given an extended leave of absence to visit his sick wife in Holland. In the Dutchman’s absence Ferguson will deploy Tomasz Kuszazck for the eight successive game, with Neville, want away Nemanja Vidic, Wes Brown and Patrice Evra making up an experienced back-line.
One of Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher could make way for Anderson or Paul Scholes in central midfield, while Frenchman Obertan is due a start with Nani out-of-favour and injured. Michael Owen may begin the match ahead of Dimitar Berbatov for the home fixture against a side United defeated 5-0 in August.
“It’s a tough league, you can see that. There’s nobody having a consistent run and it’s maybe one of those seasons,” Ferguson said.
“History tells you that two teams always break away at the end. That’s what normally happens, but it’s not looking like that at the moment.
“It’s always hard to win the league, and teams have improved in the Premier League this season, but it’s still a hard league no matter what season you do it. We’ve got the experience to do it, though, and the players to do it.”
Indeed, Ferguson is not expected to dip into the transfer market this winter, with the injury burden easing and Owen Hargreaves still to make his first appearance of the season. Although Ferguson would like to bring another striker to the club – David Villa, Edin Dzeko and Karim Benzema is each on a list of potential targets – it may well have to wait until the summer.
The Scot also insists that United is well placed to mount an assault on the Premier League title, with the club just one point worse off than at a similar stage last season.
“I think we’re better placed than most teams in that respect and they’ll know that. They will have to look at Manchester United, there’s no getting away from that,” Ferguson said.
“I know we have a good record against Wigan, but we have to respect the victories they have had against Aston Villa and Chelsea this season. They play football and that is the way Roberto Martinez wants them to play. He has a good philosophy, so it should be an entertaining match.
“But we’re coming to that time of the season when the challenge is there. We’ve got a league that is so tight now.
“Teams are taking points off each other that you don’t expect and it is tightening up the whole league. It means a consistent run from any team will give them a great chance.
“Obviously our experience of run-ins is good, we can handle that part, but the important thing is to win this game which will put us in the position I hoped we would get to – just a couple of points behind the leaders going into the New Year.”