Champions League: Wolfsburg v Manchester United - live! | Simon Burnton
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Simon will be here from 7.15pm, but in the meantime read Louise Taylor on Sir Alex's light hearted handling of the worst injury crisis in his tenure.
Ferguson tries to make light of Manchester United's defensive crisis
Sir Alex Ferguson arrived in Germany today accompanied by one fit and established defender and facing the worst injury crisis in all his years at Old Trafford. Thirteen of Manchester United's first-team squad are injured and while several of those players are due to return against Aston Villa on Saturday, Rio Ferdinand is out indefinitely and Ferguson tonight confirmed that Jonny Evans and John O'Shea will not play again this year. United's resources are so stretched that Oliver Gill, the teenage son of the club's chief executive, David Gill, and a rookie centre-half, will be on the bench for the Champions League match against Wolfsburg.
"Wes Brown will be fit for Saturday but Evans and O'Shea will not be back [until] January," said United's manager, before his skeleton squad – of just 19 players – trained at the Volkswagen Arena. "There's no good news when you've got all these players injured. I've got a lot of thinking to do about the team selection."
At least Ferguson has retained a sense of humour. Asked if he was concerned that Patrice Evra would be his only recognised defender, he said: "Well, it's worth trying going with one defender. Manchester United are always first at doing something, so we'll try that one tomorrow. It's easy to organise one person. Seriously, we know we have a difficult task. I need a back four that can unite. And good passing ability is going to be important, considering we don't have natural centre-backs."
Evra, normally a left-back, is likely to partner Michael Carrick in central defence with Darren Fletcher at right-back and, possibly, Ji-Sung Park at left-back. Gill, until recently a pupil at Manchester Grammar School, could play a part.
"Oliver's a young boy," said Ferguson who may also use Oliver Norwood, Cameron Stewart, Matty James and Magnus Eikrem. "He's 19 now but it's his first year as a professional after combining his education with playing for the last two years. He's decided to take the big step and go into full-time professional football – that's brave and we applaud him for it."
Gill has made nine appearances for the reserves this season. "Oliver is starting to develop physically," Ferguson said. "At first he was very rakish and gangly and lacked strength. But he's starting to come together in terms of physique. He's doing very well. Who his father is doesn't concern me. If Oliver's good enough, he plays. I had a son [Darren] who played for me for four or five years and he was treated exactly the same as any other player. It will be the same for Oliver."
Ferguson's assistant, Mike Phelan, has hinted that United are interested in Edin Dzeko, Wolsburg's highly rated Bosnian centre-forward, but the manager was circumspect. "There is nothing happening at this moment in time concerning Dzeko," he said.
United have qualified for the Champions League knockout phase but some fans are concerned they may fail to secure the point that would guarantee first place in Group B. Ferguson, who left Wayne Rooney at home to nurse "a hamstring" and hopes the England striker will be fit to face Villa, when Nemanja Vidic should also return, said: "I'm not sure whether coming first or second in the group really matters. You're going to face strong teams either way, Real Madrid or Barcelona, Inter or AC Milan, they're all quality, all much of a muchness. And I have to look at the bigger picture, the Premier League games we have coming up."
If Villa are understandably a higher priority than a Wolfsburg side still capable of reaching the latter stages, Ferguson will not want to fly home embarrassed. "I'd never heard of Wolfsburg before they won the Bundesliga last year," he said. "But we have a lot of thinking to do because this is a big game for them. And they will be delighted we have so many injuries."
Paul Scholes hinted such complacency could be ill advised. "We have talented players who can play anywhere," said the United midfielder. "And although Wolfsburg have two excellent forwards in Dzeko and Grafite who score a lot of goals, they also concede a lot." Michael Owen, Ferguson's sole fit established forward, will hope to prove him right.
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