Reds look to returning injured, with pivotal games on the horizon

January 20, 2012 Tags: , Reads 32 comments

Manchester United heads south this weekend at the start of a testing stretch for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. The Scot’s side visits Arsenal on Sunday, with a month of potentially decisive fixtures ahead. But Ferguson must again do without without a phalanx of key players at the Emirates as injury continues to bite into the Scot”s resources.

Yet, with Tom Cleverley back in light training, Ashley Young slowly on the mend and a handful of other players ready to feature against the Londoners, Ferguson can at least see some light at the end of a long injury tunnel. It will be a huge boon to United’s chances of taking a 20th domestic league title in May.

Cleverley moves from the gym to running outdoors this week, with the 22-year-old now out of the cast that has protected an injured ankle since the midfielder hobbled off against Everton in October. The youngster departed just 58 minutes into his return from a similar injury suffered against Bolton Wanders on 10 September.

With Cleverley went the vibrant and now seemingly long forgotten flowing football of the late summer. Yet, progress in Cleverley’s rehabilitation means that the England midfielder can realistically look to play some part in United’s Europa League double-header with Ajax in mid February. The midfielder’s return has been a very long time coming, as Ferguson’s side has stuttered through matches with a patched up engine room over the past three months.

Indeed, Michael Carrick aside, there has been little consistency in United’s midfield for months. With Anderson and Darren Fletcher also injured, Ferguson has deployed half-a-dozen players in central midfield this season – Wayne Rooney, Phil Jones, Ryan Giggs, Darron Gibson, Park Ji Sung, and even Rafael da Silva. All too often with little effect as the Reds slipped behind Manchester City in the title race, and out of Europe in the group stages.

In the meantime, Ferguson’s men will face Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, twice, before Cleverley is ready to start for United again. It is genuinely scary stuff, leaving Ferguson with a big call at the weekend: whether to retain formerly retired veteran Paul Scholes alongside Carrick, risk Anderson’s fitness, or go with Giggs’ experience against the Gooners.

Meanwhile, Ferguson’s midfield options will increase further when former Aston Villa winger Ashley Young returns to the side in early February. The 26-year-old, also recovering from an ankle injury, should be ready for selection for United’s Premier League match against Liverpool at Old Trafford.

“It’s going well. I’ve been in the gym most days but it’s getting there and hopefully I’ll be back soon,” said Young during a Betfair webcast on Thursday.

“I’m enjoying it. From the minute I stepped into the building, I was welcomed with open arms by everybody in the squad. All the staff have been brilliant. There’s competition for places all around the team so you’ve always got to be on your toes.

“It’s going to be a tough game [on Sunday], but I’m sure we’ll go down there full of confidence and looking to get three points – as we do in any game. There’s a lot of points to play for and everyone wants to be top of the table but there’s plenty of games left and we’ve got to concentrate on ourselves and look to go down there and win.”

In Young’s absence Antonio Valencia has flourished on the right-wing. Gone are the tentative displays of early season. Back is the dynamic, decisive, attacking Ecuadorian who so impressed fans during his debut season at Old Trafford. Young’s own form has been mixed, much like Ferguson’s side.

Following two defeats over Christmas, United can hardly lose any more points now, especially with City at home to Tottenham Hotspur this weekend. That City may well be six points ahead by the time United kick off at the Emirates will only heap pressure on the Reds to grind out a result, at a ground where Arsenal blow distinctly hot and cold. Arsene Wenger’s men have lost two in a row on the road, but still retain, in Robin van Persie, the league’s in-form goalscorer.

It won’t get any easier for Ferguson’s men over the next month though. United travel to Liverpool for what is likely to be an intense, potentially draining, FA cup tie in just over a week. Matches against Chelsea, Liverpool – again – and Ajax follow.

It is a pity, then, that neither Cleverley, nor Young, will be fully match sharp for a series that will surely decide United’s fate in two domestic and one European competition. In a season of more slings and arrows than Ferguson will care to remember, the Scot can but hope that the duo’s return marks the end of the most serious injury crisis at Old Trafford in the past decade.

It is gratifying at least that Ferguson should be able to call on defenders Rio Ferdinand, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones at Arsenal.

A midfielder or two? Perchance to dream, as somebody might once have said.

Reds’ tricky series

22 Jan – Premier League – Arsenal A
28 Jan – FA Cup – Liverpool A
31 Jan – Premier League – Stoke City H
05 Feb – Premier League – Chelsea A
11 Feb – Premier League – Liverpool H
16 Feb – Europa League – Ajax A
23 Feb – Europa League – Ajax H


@jDuke_ - January 20, 2012 Reply

SAF should look to bring Jones back into midfield to support Carrick. Scholes could the be brought on late if needed to help retain pssession.

Its a risk to start Scholes in this match but a starting line up that features both Scholes and Henry would be a pinch of nestolga for the fans.

Damian Garside - January 20, 2012 Reply

“nestolga’ = Russian nostalgia

Mark - January 21, 2012 Reply

I doubt he’ll start Jones in midfield unless he’s in a three. Carrick and Scholes make the most sense considering Anderson has apparently picked up another knock in training.

Tusmeister - January 20, 2012 Reply

After not taking maximum points in what should have been a very comfortable run of fixtures SAF and the players will need to give it everything to keep up with citeh, starting with a game against Arsenal that will see them out to gain some revenge for the hammering they got at the start of the season. Be interesting to see if SAF puts Scholes in to start against what is a fairly fluid and youthful midfield or whether he loads it and leaves Rooney on his own up top. Bit of a dilema this weekend as Arsenal have been inconsistent so do you go for the throat and kill them off and out of the title race or play conservative and look to ensure we go home with nothing less than a point.

As we generally F..k it up when we play for a draw I hope its the former but can’t help think with us looking flaky in many areas we’ll go down there to defend….

ichiro - January 20, 2012 Reply

Why was his ankle in a cast? thats probably why its taken so long to heal.

triggs - January 20, 2012 Reply

I’d go with Jones in centre mid too. Smalling has been excellent since his return at CB and Rafael looked good last week at RB

Alfonso Bedoya - January 20, 2012 Reply

Jones is at a difficult stage in his development… I don’t think he’s got the discipline, and concentration level to be centre back in the biggest games… he’s too keen to get forward…

So I thought midfield would suit him better… but judging by his performances there, I’m not sure about that anymore.

He’s got the drive, energy and ball skills, but no where near the tactical education for it… he looks well out of his depth at times.

Mark - January 21, 2012 Reply

What do you mean? He’s largely been outstanding when he’s played centre mid (and right back), it’s his performances at centre back that have been lacking as you point out.

Bill - January 20, 2012 Reply
A little worrying. I really do worry about utds approach to medical issues. Loads of injures, Hernandez had a concussion problem SAF knew nothing about and this. Pretty much prehistoric at times. They signed Howard when he had tourette issues too. Would you spend lots and lots of money then expect excellence without addressing issues like this first or at least handling them as soon as they join? How anyone could expect Bebe to be a hit considering his history is very odd too.

Mark - January 21, 2012 Reply

What’s worrying? It’s a nothing story. He’s obviously either short sighted or long sighted and just needs Lasik surgery. It’s a routine surgery that millions of people get every year. He probably wears contacts right now.

Mark - January 21, 2012 Reply

Oh and where did you get the impression Fergie knew nothing about Hernandez’s concussion? It happened at a training session in NY and it was immediately addressed.

onside - January 20, 2012 Reply

This run of fixtures might look tough on paper but in reality, are we really that worried about a team that is in 4th place in the Dutch League? Ajax might be a historic name but they are a shadow of their great past teams. Same story with Liverpool.

Stoke at home? Only question is whether we will win 4-0 or 5-0.

Arsenal? Isn’t that the team we just out 8 goals past?

And as for Chelsea, it says here we have beaten them the last 4 times we met, were it at home, away, or at a neutral venue.

In my honest opinion, or possibly tongue-in-cheek, United to win all 7 matches with aggregate goal record of 20-4.

Mark - January 21, 2012 Reply

Very optimistic but yes we shouldn’t be fearing any of these teams. If we can win on Sunday it sets us up nicely. I don’t know why people are worried about Ajax at all, do we really give a shit what happens? Fergie should play the squad players and let the chips fall where they may.

uncleknobheadforfucksake - January 20, 2012 Reply

liverpool will knock us out and chelsea will beat us, draw on sunday

uncleknobheadforfucksake - January 20, 2012 Reply

scholes is gonna have to play some of these games so we won’t win em all

sidney - January 20, 2012 Reply

Is Welbeck fucked

Mark - January 21, 2012 Reply

No he’s fit for tomorrow.

DeadRevel - January 20, 2012 Reply

We’ll go for a 4-2-4-0 formation tomorrow. Jones and Carrick playing in front of defence, midfield of Valencia, Rooney, Scholes and Welbeck. Welbeck playing as a leftwing/forward.

Calvino - January 20, 2012 Reply

This weekend is huge for three teams in the Premier League. City need to beat Spurs to dispel any idea that they are wobbling under the pressure of being top. Spurs need to win or at least avoid defeat to prove they are in this for the long haul. Arsenal HAVE to win to have alive hopes of finishing in the top four.

Manchester United on the other hand are the team with actually no real pressure. We are the defending champions and will remain thus until May at least. I can imagine Sir Alex telling the players that we are champions for a reason and that’s because we were the best team that season. This, despite all the injuries, we are still second. Which means we are better than we are getting credit for. Therefore, we will be relaxed going into these run of fixtures. If our manager picks the right team then we should be quite comfortable on sunday. By that I mean a midfield that does not contain both Giggs and Scholes in the starting line-up. Jones has to partner Carrick and Welbeck high up with Rooney deep to wreck havoc. We need to have the legs around the Emirates and so Giggs and Scholes won’t do.

Knobby, you are chatting dust again. By the time we play Liverpool, chances are that they might have played extra-time in midweek against Ciddy. With everyone fit I do not see us losing there. I fully expect us to kick on from here on. Ciddy can not afford to drop even one point again.

Mark - January 21, 2012 Reply

Arsenal don’t have to win to keep their hopes of finishing in the top 4 alive. Obviously a win would be a massive boost and greatly enhance their chances but a point or even a defeat and they’re still very much in the race for 4th given Chelsea’s and Liverpool’s erratic form.

Mark - January 21, 2012 Reply

Good point about Liverpool likely being nackered though. We will have had a week off and they will have played a high octane semi final in midweek. No reason we can’t go there and win assuming we don’t pick up any injuries on Sunday. As for Jones in midfield I can only see that happening if we play a 3 in there. Otherwise I fell it will be Carrick and Scholes.

Damian Garside - January 21, 2012 Reply

Shame about the Maths classes you missed hey? City are THREE p9oints ahead: they can afford to drop THREE points. Simple as.

dozer - January 21, 2012 Reply

Alfonso Bedoya said:
Jones is at a difficult stage in his development… I don’t think he’s got the discipline, and concentration level to be centre back in the biggest games… he’s too keen to get forward…
So I thought midfield would suit him better… but judging by his performances there, I’m not sure about that anymore.
He’s got the drive, energy and ball skills, but no where near the tactical education for it… he looks well out of his depth at times.

Like Anderson ha ha.
But Jones looks very talented indeed and quite looks a player with world class potential, but I always say, he’s playing too many games for his level. He should be only given the easy ones for now and brought up slower.
He’s got quite good close ball control and an excellent ability to power surge forward – he can be top class.

Sir Ryan Giggs? No no no. Sir Paul Scholes say.

Mark - January 21, 2012 Reply

We don’t have the luxury of only playing him in easy games considering all the injuries we have. If we can keep Rafael, Smalling, and Evans fit as well as getting Cleverley back then we might be able to do that. At present he is needed.

Dan - January 21, 2012 Reply

Does anyone think ashley young should be tried at center mid when he returns? I think he might do a better job than most think. Good shot, great at short passes and very quick. Pass selection is his only drawback at times.

Herbie Simms - January 21, 2012 Reply

SAF needs to bring in Ravel Morrison in his midfield and stop all this bullshit. He’s got a world class youngster among his ranks and he is just being wasted. No wonder Morrison is a nut case. I would go crazy too if you did not use my talent. He should at least be on the subs bench. So much talk about Cleverley but Morrison is the star of the hour. Most talented player to come out of the academy for years! Are they now going to sell him to Arsenal? Is SAF going to play both Giggs and Scholes? Are we fielding a senior citizens team against Arsenal? We need to buy QUALITY midfielders, NOW!

Mark - January 21, 2012 Reply

Same shit different day. Morrison is nowhere near ready to play centre midfield in the Premier League never mind away at Arsenal. He may be able to play on the wing but we have Nani and Valencia, why would you start an unproven youngster ahead of either of them?

Mark - January 21, 2012 Reply

I’m a bit confused as to why Cleverley is expected to be out till after the Liverpool game in mid February. He’s not starting running next week, according to his Twitter he’s been running outside all this week. He’s returning to proper training next week and Fergie said depending on how he trains it should only be a week or so till he’s ready to play. Now this obviously rules out a return against Liverpool in the cup next weekend but I see no reason why he shouldn’t be available for the Chelsea the following weekend. You never know he may even make the Stoke game the preceding Tuesday.

sidney - January 21, 2012 Reply

No, because he’ll be bodging

Dan - January 21, 2012 Reply

If you mean little green, I agree. But he can’t be any worse than some of the other SAF choices.

uncleknobheadforfucksake - January 21, 2012 Reply

plus there’s the main issue that ashley youngs crap at football

Dan - January 21, 2012 Reply

I don’t know about that. He played well at that position for England . I guess I was hoping for a serious analysis.

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