Sir Alex Ferguson is crossing his fingers record signing Dimitar Berbatov can make it to the end of the season without needing knee surgery.

Berbatov has been struggling with the injury since November and Ferguson revealed last week the advice has been for the £30.75million forward to have an exploratory operation so medical staff can work out the extent of the problem.

"If we could see it through until the end of the season it would be better," said the Red Devils chief.

"The advice was to have an exploratory operation but Dimitar wants to play through it.

"Sometimes he feels it and sometimes he doesn't. Maybe the climate helped but he didn't feel it when we went away, so he trained every day.

"It is a difficult one and if he is feeling OK it is not a problem.

"But if he is keeps continually coming up against a problem we would have to make a decision on it."

Although the Scot was prevented from entering into any discussion about the Old Trafford outfit's debt mountain - and their plans to tackle it, which he backed seven days ago - due to "regulatory compliance" - United could certainly do with some of the heat being taken off the club by the team putting a consistent run of results together.

On the face of it, an FA Cup home defeat by League One Leeds, followed by a draw at Birmingham does not achieve that objective.

The likely return of Edwin van der Sar, who has missed 12 successive matches, initially due to a knee injury suffered against Everton on November 21, then because his wife Annemarie suffered a stroke back home in Holland, should help bring some stability to United's defence, which Ferguson believes is crucial to any change in fortune.


Burnley



Yet United must also take a far greater percentage of their chances, starting against a Burnley side whose depressing run of away results - just one point so far this season - is being balanced out by impressive home form that began with that shock defeat of Saturday's opponents at Turf Moor in August.

The added dimension this time around is Owen Coyle's exit for Bolton and the installation of Brian Laws as his replacement.

Laws took a leaf out of Sir Alex's book on mind-games by claiming the pressure will all be on Manchester United - and that the reigning champions are going through "a sticky patch".

Laws' first match as a Premier League manager will see him searching for what would be an amazing double following the Clarets' 1-0 win in August.

The 48-year-old also claimed that the whole country will be behind the Lancashire side.

Laws said: "There's an air of confidence in the camp and the pressure has totally transferred on to Manchester United.

"They are having a sticky moment and this may be a good time to play them. We will go there with no fear and they will be very wary about whether Burnley will do the double over them.

"Burnley deserved the result at the start of the season and the whole country was delighted. It gave a realism back to football and this was what Burnley had been waiting for for 30 years.

"There's no reason why they can't go and do it again, everything is possible."

Laws trod the Old Trafford turf regularly as a player when he was a full-back in Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest side, but this will be the first time he has crossed swords with Ferguson directly.

"I know he likes a glass of wine after the match and I shall have to bring a nice bottle for him," added Laws. "I'm not particularly keen on wine personally but I'll give him a crate if it gives us the points!"

Ferguson is one of the few who can beat Laws' number of games as a league manager in England but the former Sheffield Wednesday, Scunthorpe and Grimsby boss has until now plied his trade in the lower divisions racking up around 700 matches in charge.

"I don't really need to justify it but people keep saying 'you haven't got any managerial experience in the Premiership' and they are right but I can quite whitewash anybody in terms of games," added Laws.

"It's about managing people and football clubs and we are in the Premiership but it's nothing different to anywhere apart from being with better players."

Laws faces major problems in central defence. Skipper Steven Caldwell (groin) is definitely out while Clarke Carlisle is rated as only 50-50 with a side strain. Meanwhile Andre Bikey is absent on African Nations Cup duty.

Michael Duff is expected to continue at centre-back and if Carlisle fails to make it that could mean a league debut for young Canadian defender David Edgar, signed in the summer from Newcastle.

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