Sir Alex Ferguson is hopeful for a Rio Ferdinand return at Stoke | Chris Smalling is a "doubt"

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is hoping for Rio Ferdinand to return for Saturday's game at the Britannia.

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is hoping for a Rio Ferdinand return for his side's away match versus Stoke City on Saturday. The Potters present a unique challenge with their aerial prowess and drastically direct style of play -- the United boss believes experience is important for this difficult tie at the Britannia Stadium.

"I’m hoping Rio will be okay for Saturday. When you go to Stoke you need a bit of experience.Rio came into the team when we played at Bolton and gave us that experience, so we hope he'll be fit for Saturday." -Sir Alex Ferguson

Source: ManUtd.com

Ferdinand has only featured in two of his side's seven matches this season because of a calf strain. In addition, United has spent nearly the entire season without his center-back partner and club captain Nemanja Vidic. This has allowed for the youngsters Jonny Evans, Phil Jones, and Chris Smalling to ably deputise. 

For this tie at Stoke, an ability to compete in the air will be needed by the United defense. Last season, Ferdinand showed his aerial ability by winning 75% of his aerial duels -- that was amongst the leaders in the Premier League. While Evans struggled last season with his aerial duels, he has shown immense improvement during the current campaign -- it is possible that he partners Ferdinand this weekend at center-back. 

Injuries have obviously been a concern to United's defense this season and it appears that another defender has gone down. During this past Sunday's match versus Chelsea FC, Smalling was substituted off in the 2nd half due to a knock suffered. Fergie has indicated that Smalling is a "doubt" for the match versus Stoke because of a groin injury. 

If Ferdinand returns to start this weekend, the two selection choices in defense appear to be who will partner him and who will start at right-back. At center-back, expect either Evans or Jones and if Evans is chosen, expect either Jones or Fabio at right-back. Perhaps against Stoke, it may be most prudent to go with size -- thus, Evans at center-back and Jones at right-back could be the choices. Fergie will likely reveal more team news tomorrow during his pre-match press conference. 

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