Ferguson: Injuries have unsettled United
Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted a glut of injuries has unsettled Manchester United this season.
UCL FIXTURES: NOV. 22
|Tuesday, November 22|
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United have bounced back from their derby-day mauling by recording five straight wins without conceding a goal.
Yet there remains a hesitancy in their play, born out of having to make so many changes.
In pairing Michael Carrick with Ryan Giggs in the centre of United's midfield at Swansea on Saturday, Ferguson was using his ninth different combination.
Central defence has seen just as many changes, with Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling all used at various times in addition to established first choices, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.
Yet, with Vidic serving the final game of a two-match European ban in Tuesday's Champions League encounter with Benfica, Ferguson will be forced to make another swap.
It is not something the Scot is too concerned about.
However, he does concede the normal fluency that would be expected from such an impressive sequence of victories is missing.
"There have been some changes in the team from the one that started the season,'' said Ferguson.
"You don't envisage having quite so many injuries.
"Everyone was fresh at the start. We had been through a brilliant pre-season in the States with not one injury. Then you are hit with a little list.
"It doesn't disrupt us to a great degree but it does unsettle the balance of the team.
"Sometimes we are having to rethink which team to play whereas when the team is in full flow you don't need to worry.''
Ferguson can see an end to the problems, even if it won't come in time to help out.
Smalling for instance has started training after suffering a broken bone in his foot and Ferguson expects the England international to be available for Saturday's Premier League encounter with Newcastle.
Danny Welbeck was also put through his paces at Carrington this morning after suffering a hamstring strain on England duty and cannot be far away from a return.
Ferguson is also optimistic Evans will have recovered from his own hamstring niggle in time to feature at Old Trafford tomorrow, whilst it is not imagined a "couple of knocks'' will be enough to keep Wayne Rooney out.
Although he has tended to operate in deeper positions recently, it would be no surprise to see Rooney pushed into a more natural advanced role given United's status in Group C would be greatly enhanced by a win that would maintain an unbeaten home record against Portuguese opposition.
Winger Nani has particular incentive to impress given he came through the ranks at Benfica's arch rivals Sporting Lisbon, just like his illustrious former Red Devils team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo.
Nani tends to bridle these days when comparisons are made with the former world player of the year.
But Ferguson believes he is becoming a key man in his own right.
"Nani has always had potential,'' he said. "Some of those who come to our club from abroad do it quickly, others gradually grow into it. Nani is one of those.
"Even Cristiano took two or three years to get the maturity in his game. That is what we are seeing with Nani now.
"The goals have been fine but his assists are very high. He is progressing really well.''
After issuing the praise, Ferguson joked that Nani would be a substitute tomorrow, although that does appear unlikely given United's need for victory.
It is certainly a complicated qualification picture though as United could win and still find themselves requiring a result in Switzerland next month, or draw and go through.
Basle's result against currently pointless Otelul Galati holds the key, although Ferguson remains totally focused on sealing top spot, therefore probably avoiding Barcelona, AC Milan and Real Madrid in the knockout phase.
"You hope to finish top,'' he said.
"One issue is the teams you might draw if you finish second, although with the quality of the teams, it doesn't make a great difference.
"The main advantage is knowing the second leg would be at Old Trafford.''