Prior to today's 3-2 defeat of Manchester City, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson provided an update in regards to the injury and illness situation in his squad. Perhaps the main piece of news is that he considers both midfielder Tom Cleverley and winger Ashley Young to be about a month away from a return. Here are his comments about the situation in central-midfield -- a unit that has been bolstered by Paul Scholes' surprise return from retirement:
"Of course it's been a difficult period for us. Losing Darren [Fletcher], in particular, and the promise of Tom Cleverley was a big blow to us. We haven't had that type of midfield player [like Tom] for years and years so it was a loss and then Anderson being out was a loss."
Fergie further elaborated on Cleverley's recovery timeline, something that is in-line with Cleverley's own hopes:
"I think the plan is for Cleverley to start running two weeks on Monday and join us maybe the following week so he's maybe a month away."
The boss also elaborated a bit more on Ando's recent recovery:
"Hopefully that's Anderson back now and he's looking well in terms of the physical part. He's had good treatment and is hopefully back for good."
During his weekly press conference on Friday, Fergie essentially ruled out both Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling. However, late Friday night involved rumblings that Smalling may be a surprise inclusion for the City match and that is exactly what he ended up being as the defender went the full 90 minutes. In addition, further surprise was included with Evans being on the bench. Each are quite obviously welcome returns to a defense that has recently been decimated by injuries -- to the point where midfielder Michael Carrick was starting in center-back and winger Antonio Valencia was starting at right-back.
The most recent news in regards to striker Michael Owen's injury was not positive -- here is what Fergie had to provide on his recovery progress:
"When Michael [Owen] gets injured, it's always a bad one and this is a bad one. It's probably the middle of February for him and it may be a good time to come back as he has the ability to score goals out of nothing and that's always valuable."
The timeline for Ashley Young's return appears to be somewhat similar to Cleverley's. Here is what Fergie had to say about the winger:
"Young may be a month away, four weeks easily. His bleeding never came out quickly in his injury after the Fulham game. There's nothing we can do until the bleeding is all out and it's been unfortunate for him. I don't think it's a serious injury but we can't pre-judge it until we know all the facts about it."
So in defense, it appears that only Fabio and Nemanja Vidic remain unavailable, the latter with his season-ending injury. This would mean United now have Rio Ferdinand, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Rafael, and Patrice Evra to choose from when Fergie makes his selections.
In central-midfield, Cleverley and Fletcher remain out but the selection choices suddenly doesn't appear as dire as it once did: Carrick, Ando, Scholes, Ryan Giggs, and Darron Gibson. If United were to buy during the current transfer window, this is still the unit that likely needs most bolstering.
Out wide, Fergie will be able to choose from three quality wingers in Nani, Valencia, and Park Ji-sung -- Giggs can also still feature out here as well. Despite Owen's injury, United can still choose from four quality strikers at the moment: Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Danny Welbeck, and Javier Hernandez (Chicharito). It's all starting to look a bit more positive now.