Sir Alex Ferguson will be without almost a team of first team players for two visits to the Capital this week as Manchester United’s injury crisis intensifies. Captain Nemanja Vidic and midfielder Darren Fletcher have each been ruled out for the season, while more than half-a-dozen other players are unlikely to travel to London this week. The absentees mean Ferguson will reshuffle in defence and midfield as United aim to hit the Premier League summit with a victory over Queens Park Rangers on Sunday.
But Ferguson has seemingly ruled out dipping into the winter transfer market despite the rash of injuries that threaten to disrupt United’s season. Indeed, injury to Darron Gibson in Thursday night’s reserve match leaves Ferguson may leave Michael Carrick as the Reds only senior central midfielder for the trip south. However, Ferguson says that the club will not buy unless a player already on Ferguson’s target list becomes available.
“It is how you handle the situation,” claimed Ferguson.
“Buying in January has seldom been a route we have taken. Unless a player we have always been interested in comes along – and there is no sign of that at the moment – it is not suitable for us. We are not going to panic; we have enough experience among the staff to cope with these things.
“We still have players who can wear the red jersey and they will wear it with complete confidence. Vidic’s character and energy are a loss. Darren is a big-game player, he is a loss, but we have enough players who have experienced everything that is coming in the second half of the season.”
Ferguson’s obstinance, whether directed by a genuine belief in the resources still available or the reported lack of transfer funds, means that United will continue to field an unconventional midfield. Carrick is again likely to be joined by Phil Jones in the engine room on Sunday. Contract rebel Paul Pogba could make the bench, as could youngsters Larnell Cole and Ezikiel Fryers.
However, Ferguson’s options are increased by one, with Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov available for selection against Neil Warnock’s newly promoted Londoners. Berbatov should make United’s bench, with Danny Welbeck partnering Wayne Rooney in attack. Meanwhile, Brazilian full-back Rafael da Silva is back in training and could feature over the Christmas programme, although the 20-year-old did not travel to London.
Despite the extended injury list Ferguson is in confident mood, with United having never lost to QPR in the Premier League. The clubs have not met since 1996, although QPR did beat United 4-1 on New Year’s Day 1992 with Dennis Bailey scoring a hat-trick.
“I always enjoy going to Queens Park Rangers,” added Ferguson.
“It’s always a good atmosphere and we used to be able to get a bigger support than normal. They used to give us one section – the one behind the goal and then part of the side, which always meant we had about 6,000 fans. We have a good record there and I hope we can continue that. They’ve done well and given themselves a chance of staying in the league by investing and bringing in a few players. It’s going to be a hard game.
“Queens Park Rangers have invested the right way. Neil Warnock realised that when you get into the Premier League you need big players. That gives them a better chance because it’s an unremitting league in terms of the demands, particularly for teams coming out of the Championship. Strangely, Norwich, Swansea and QPR have done well and adapted to the demands of the league. The rest test, though, is in the second half of the season.”
Meanwhile, QPR striker DJ Campbell could start for the first time in two months after featuring from the bench against Liverpool last weekend. However, defender Anton Ferdinand is a doubt, while perennially injured Kieron Dyer will miss the rest of the season.
The absences do little to help Warnock’s cause, with QPR sat comfortably in mid-table but suffering poor form at Loftus Road this season. Indeed, only three Premier League teams have a worse home record than the Hoops, while Warnock’s men have lost four of the last six in the league.
This should, despite United’s problems, add up to three points for the visitors. Victory will take the Reds above Manchester City to the Premier League summit for an afternoon at least.
Queens Park Rangers versus Manchester United, Premier League, Loftus Road, Sunday 17 December 2011, 12 noon.
QPR (4-4-2): Cerny; Young, Gabbidon, Orr, Traore; Wright-Phillips, Faurlin, Barton, Mackie; Bothroyd, Helguson. Subs from: Putnins, Hill, Connolly, Derry, Buzsaky, Smith, Campbell, Taarabt, Puncheon.
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Smalling, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Nani, Jones, Carrick, Young; Rooney; Welbeck. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fryers, Park, Pogba, Valencia, Cole, Diouf, Giggs, Macheda, Berbatov.
- United won 4-1 against Wolverhapton Wanderers last weekend, with Michael Carrick covering the most ground for the Reds at 6.79 miles;
- Rooney scored twice in the match – his 10th and 11th goals of the season – and helped the Scouser regain top spot in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index from Robin van Persie;
- Nani’s goals were his fourth and fifth for United in the league, and the midfielder rose 13 places in the Index to seventh;
- Rooney struck ten shots on target in that game, the most any player has in a single game so far this season, but the striker’s influence stretches beyond goalscoring. The former Evertonian has completed 409 passes in his opponent’s half this season. To put that in context, the next highest total for a striker is Luis Suarez’ 296, with the pair having played almost exactly the same minutes on the pitch;
- Meanwhile, QPR lost to Liverpool last weekend. Alejandro Faurlin covered the most ground in that game with 5.4 miles. Faurlin’s total for the season is now 97.42 miles and he should pass the 100 mile mark against United;
- Goalkeeper Radek Cerny earned praise from Neil Warnock having stepped into the side. The Czech goalkeeper has made 19 saves in his three appearances so far this season;
- Former Manchester Ciy winger Shaun Wright-Phillips hit the post against Liverpool as he continues his search for his first QPR goal. Wright-Phillips has had 32 efforts at goal so far this season, and contributed 22 dribbles and 17 crosses.
Referee: Howard Webb (Rotherham)
Assistants: D Cann, A Garratt
Fourth Official: A Marriner