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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sir Alex ponders striker dilemma

Sir Alex Ferguson admits a lack of match fitness in his forward line has given him plenty to ponder ahead of United's Champions League opener in Portugal.

The side to start against Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday night will be announced following a "very tough choice" by the boss involving Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha and Carlos Tevez, none of whom he considers fully ready to play 90 minutes in Europe.

"Tevez has been doing exceptionally and is getting better and better, but on Saturday, in the last 20 minutes, he tired again," Sir Alex said.

"Louis Saha is someone we're gauging match to match – the plan is to ease him into games as we go. Remember, he's been out for eight months. As for Wayne Rooney, he's only played half a game, which was more than a month ago.

"I don't know if I'll start him, put him on the bench, start him with Carlos Tevez... maybe I'll do the same as we did at Goodison Park and play Tevez up front with Giggs. Do I bring Saha and Rooney on at half-time? We have to make sure we make the right team selection because we want to win."

No matter what happens, it certainly appears Rooney will make an appearance, unlike on Saturday where he travelled to Merseyside but was not named in the 16 that overcame Everton.

The manager's selection problems are not confined to the front line. Sir Alex conceded it was "very disappointing" not to have Owen Hargreaves on board when the squad flew out from Manchester on Tuesday.

"Owen Hargreaves didn't make the trip to Lisbon," the manager confirmed. "He hasn't fully recovered from his injury he sustained with England. Obviously it's a bit of a blow because one of the big reasons we bought Owen was his experience, particularly in Europe. In the games he's played for us so far he's showed his experience and I was looking forward to having him for tomorrow's game. Unfortunately he's not available."

The manager said United's opening Champions League fixture was a "very promising game" and comes against a club the Reds respect highly.

"As most people know, we have had a marvellous relationship with Sporting Lisbon for many years now. I think they have a fantastic youth programme and it's one I admire. Our coaches have been over to see their Academy and vice versa... we bought Cristiano Ronaldo some years ago and this year we bought Nani. Those two players are a great indication of how successful they are at youth level."

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