It was quite surprising -- perhaps shocking even -- to see right-back Rafael partner winger Park Ji-sung in central midfield on Boxing Day in a league match versus Blackburn Rovers. In addition, the sentiment may have been shared about the absence of Wayne Rooney from both the starting XI and even the bench because United had a chance to go top of the table for New Year's had they earned a result. It wasn't to be. According to reports, Rooney was not injured for Blackburn, but rather dropped after Jonny Evans and Darron Gibson joined him on Boxing Day with their significant others for a night out. Presumably, Gibson's involvement prevented him from featuring in central-midfield versus Blackburn as well.
Ahead of tomorrow night's clash with Newcastle United at Sports Direct Arena, manager Sir Alex Ferguson had this to say about Wazza's availability:
"Wayne Rooney will be available of course. We had a few training sessions which he missed. You've got to be fit to play in this league, you can't miss training sessions."
Read into all of this what you want but Rooney's exclusion from Blackburn was certainly a message sent from Fergie to both his talisman and the squad. Apparently there is no rift between the manager and player but since we aren't privy to these sort of details, it's always difficult to accurately gauge what's really going on. Nonetheless, it appears that Rooney will feature against the Magpies.
Fergie also had this to say about Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, and Anderson -- the former two have missed the recent matches:
"We're trying hard to get Rio Ferdinand for Wednesday, and Ryan Giggs, which would make a good difference to us. Anderson should be better, he had 45 minutes on Saturday after four months out. There are no other ones to come back immediately."
Both Ferdinand and Giggs are badly needed and would be welcome additions to central-defense and central-midfield, respectively. After the Blackburn match, Fergie admitted that Ando's 2nd half inclusion was a gamble due to his hurried return from injury. If Ferdinand isn't able to play, that would leave only Phil Jones available as a natural center-back option with Chris Smalling being considered a doubt for the match. In central-midfield, only Carrick, Gibson, Ando, and possibly Giggs are the only natural options here -- however, Carrick may have to be deployed in central defense once again and there are concerns over Ando's fitness due to his sudden return. Here is the full list of known injuries/illness ahead of Newcastle:
Out: Jonny Evans, Ashley Young, Darren Fletcher, Nemanja Vidic, Fabio, Michael Owen, Tom Cleverley
Doubtful: Chris Smalling
Possible: Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand