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Friday, September 19, 2008

Ben's latest blow

United goalkeeper Ben Foster has been ruled out for six to eight weeks after injuring his ankle playing in the Reserves.

Foster fell awkwardly in Thursday night’s 0-0 draw against Blackburn Rovers and left the Carrington training ground on Friday on crutches.

“Ben’s not had any luck,” Sir Alex said at his Friday press conference. “He was coming on fantastically, he’s been training really well. I made him substitute on Wednesday, which gives you an indication of his return to fitness.

“He’s been blighted by injuries so far in his career. He’s a top goalkeeper and I just hope he gets a little break now.”

Sir Alex was quick to point out Foster’s latest injury is unrelated to the goalkeeper’s past troubles.

“This has nothing to do with his previous injury – that was a cruciate knee injury. It was just bad luck.”

Evra relishes Chelsea trip

Without a win in three games and struggling to score goals, United could be forgiven the merest hint of trepidation when travelling to Chelsea on Sunday, but no such fear has struck Patrice Evra ahead of the trip to Stamford Bridge.

Wednesday night's Champions League draw with Villarreal ended a run of two straight defeats for United, but ensured a frustrating start to this season's European campaign.

"We came close but we didn't win in the end," Evra told MUTV. "I'm frustrated for the result, but not the way we played because it was better than the performance against Liverpool."

Top-of-the-table Chelsea have been in fine goalscoring form this season, hitting four more against Bordeaux in midweek, but Evra believes that a victory against the Blues would announce United's return to form.

"It's a perfect game, but you don't need to have a lot of pressure," said the defender. "If you win at Chelsea, you don't win the league. If you lose at Chelsea, you don't lose the league as well.

"You need to win for confidence, so that everybody says 'Manchester United is back'."

Evans set for the top

Fans got a glimpse of United's future against Villarreal on Wednesday - young defender Jonny Evans is set to be a mainstay in the Reds defence in years to come.

Sir Alex Ferguson has placed great faith in the young Northern Ireland international, turning down four offers for the 20-year-old’s services over the summer.

Such is Evans’ standing at Old Trafford that Sir Alex would have no qualms about thrusting him into the cut-throat atmosphere of Sunday’s clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Nemanja Vidic’s suspension-enforced absence may leave Sir Alex no option, but Evans’ first start of the season – only his fourth United appearance in total – against Villarreal showed a commanding young centre-half ready to make the step up.

"It was a good night for him, and it’s an indication of his quality," Sir Alex told "We had offers for him from three or four clubs in the summer, but we stuck to our guns because we believe in him.

"Jonny will be the future centre-half for Manchester United, there’s no doubt about that. That’s a vindication of our belief in the boy, and also proves that he can believe what we’re saying to him - he'll play a lot of football here.

"He’ll get plenty of games and his performance on Wednesday gave me an idea of how to approach the match against Chelsea on Sunday."

Evans came very close to breaking the 0-0 deadlock against Villarreal when his header from Cristiano Ronaldo’s cross rebounded off the post. "He hit the inside of the woodwork in the second half and had a chance right after half-time, a nice header that went just past the post,” Sir Alex said. “He did well because he was carrying a slight groin injury.”

The Reds boss sees Evans carving a career at the top of the game if he continues the rapid progress he has made in recent years in United’s youth team, Reserves and in loan spells at Royal Antwerp and Sunderland.

"He’s only 20 years old but he’s already got around 10 international caps,” he added. “Jonny will be a fixture for Northern Ireland now and I imagine he’ll be their captain in time - he’s an outstanding candidate for that. He’s a boy with a great talent and we’re very pleased with his progress."

Boss has selection headache

Dimitar Berbatov is fit for United’s trip to Stamford Bridge, although Sir Alex admits he faces a selection dilemma when it comes to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo played 28 minutes on Wednesday against Villarreal and the Reds boss told media on Friday he would have no fears in picking him in Sunday’s side.

“He’s a natural athlete,” Sir Alex said. “He’s trained very well and I'd have no problems at all playing him on Sunday. I just have to decide if it’s the right time.

“I think he did very well on Wednesday night. He was aggressive in his running and was a good threat.

“The boy wants to play – he’s been in my ear the whole time. I just hope I pick the right team.”

Everybody else came through Wednesday's game unscathed, with Sir Alex confirming the only absentees for Sunday will be Michael Carrick (ankle) and Nemanja Vidic (suspended).

The manager admitted losing to Liverpool last weekend was “a disappointing result” and insisted Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge was a must-win.

“When you play against the big four it’s important you get a big points-haul out of them. Last season we did very well against the top four. This season we’ve lost the first one already [at Anfield]. We can’t afford to lose another one.”

Ferguson’s dilemma over Ronaldo

[Against Villarreal] United did show a marked improvement on their display when beaten at Anfield at the weekend, but only after Cristiano Ronaldo arrived from the bench at the hour mark did they play with the verve and intensity likely to be required to beat a Chelsea team brimming with confidence at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
That presents a problem for Ferguson as Ronaldo, returning from ankle surgery in July, had not played at all, even in the Reserves, prior to Wednesday.
"He did very well for his first game but it would be a big ask to start him on Sunday," Ferguson said.
Glenn Moore, The Independent