Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson held a press conference today in order to provide team news ahead of tomorrow's UEFA Champions League tie with SC Braga. Perhaps for headlines in the papers, the main piece of news was Fergie revealing that he and Rio Ferdinand have resolved their differences in regards to the recent 'Kick It Out' matter. In regards to team news though, the manager gave an update on his defense and perhaps the headline news in that regard is that he plans to rest both Ferdinand and Patrice Evra tomorrow night. Here's what he had to say on this:
"I'm not playing Rio tomorrow. We have a game on Sunday against Chelsea and it’s a big one for us so I'm leaving a couple of players out. Rio and Patrice Evra are the older players – those are the two main changes for tomorrow. Other than that we’ve got a big squad."
- Ferguson | Source: ManUtd.com
With Evra being rested, that means Alexander Buttner will get the start at left-back. However, the replacement for Ferdinand isn't so clear as the only other healthy first-choice central-defender for the moment is Jonny Evans. Chris Smalling was thought to be nearing a return but it doesn't appear he'll be available tomorrow:
"Chris Smalling trained this morning with Warren Joyce's Reserves. He's trained with them for a couple of days. It's non-contact for him at the moment - he's just playing as a free player, a floating player, in the training sessions. The encouraging thing is that he's on the road back. There's no question about that. I expect Phil Jones to start on the football side of things on Monday. They're both around two or three weeks away, which is good news. They're not far away."
Evans is almost certain to start and the main two candidates to partner with him appear to be midfielder Michael Carrick and youngster Scott Wootton. The likes of Darren Fletcher, Tom Cleverley, and Anderson were rested versus Stoke City last weekend so there is depth in midfield if Carrick moves back into defense. United are in good position in Group H with a perfect record from two games but the tie versus Braga is still an important one. It'll be interesting to see if Fergie entrusts Wootton with the big task of starting this game.
Fergie brought up some other names in his squad and this perhaps hinted at what his selection choices might be for tomorrow:
"We've got Ashley Young back and he'll be involved tomorrow. We've got Nani, Valencia, Giggs... plenty of wide players. Of course, we also have plenty of central midfield players. So I have an issue in terms of picking the team. Hopefully I get it right. Shinji Kagawa didn't play on Saturday so he can prepare for tomorrow. Also, Stoke's a different team to any other side he's played. But mainly it was to give him a rest before tomorrow."
Before it can be guessed as to which players will start tomorrow, it's best to figure out whether the gaffer is planning to use a midfield diamond system or one with traditional wingers. Kagawa is very likely to feature and in behind him possibly in a midfield diamond, Fletcher can hold while Cleverley and Anderson could be deployed as shuttlers. Valencia is probable to start versus Chelsea because of his past success versus Ashley Cole so he could possibly be rested. Nani is certainly in need of a game so he's a strong candidate to start while form would be the only concern if Ashley Young starts due to his recent recovery from injury.
The boss also discussed whether the 33-year-old Ferdinand, soon to be 34, can continue to contribute at United beyond this season:
"We've always adopted the policy of offering them [the older players] one-year contracts. I think Rio could play for two or three more years. He has different issues to Paul [Scholes] and Ryan [Giggs] in terms of the injuries he's had. He's not as quick as he was but that's not a problem for me - the experience he has in that position is more important to me and he's still a great footballer. I didn't know his contract was up at the end of the season. Now you've made me panic!"
On the other end of the age and experience spectrum, Fergie also talked about right-back Rafael:
"He's maturing and learning all the time and he's blessed with great enthusiasm. He has all the qualities - skill, speed... he has all these things and his maturity has brought them out. In the past he's been impulsive and over-committed himself. He's maturing fantastically now."
Besides Ferdinand and Evra being rested, and besides Smalling and Jones out due to injury, Nemanja Vidic is also not available.