Sir Alex Ferguson has hailed Edwin van der Sar as the best goalkeeper in the Barclays Premier League.

The 39-year-old has endured a difficult campaign so far, first breaking two fingers in a pre-season game with Bayern Munich that condemned him to two months on the sidelines then being ruled out for another five weeks following a collision with Everton's Tim Cahill in November.

"Edwin makes a big difference," said Ferguson. "I know there are a few young keepers out there doing very well but Edwin is the best in the league just now."

Van der Sar was nearing the end of his recovery when wife Annemarie suffered a stroke in her native Holland that meant her husband was granted a period of indefinite compassionate leave.

The former Ajax keeper finally returned to action against Burnley on January 16, since when United have not conceded a goal in the Premier League and reached the Carling Cup final by beating Manchester City on Wednesday night.

Van der Sar's second-half save to deny Micah Richards when Wednesday night's contest was goalless was superb, and Ferguson was quick to highlight the contribution Van der Sar is making.

Ferguson added: "It is not just his saves, it is his composure and use of the ball. It is good to have him back."

Ferguson is now sweating on the FA disciplinary hearing into Rio Ferdinand's challenge on Hull's Craig Fagan last Saturday, which will be held later on Thursday.

Ferdinand appealed against the charge, a move that allowed him to play on Wednesday night, but if the disciplinary panel decide it was a "frivolous" appeal, they have the power to increase any suspension beyond the automatic three matches.

As it presently stands, Ferdinand would be ruled out of Sunday's trip to Arsenal, the Portsmouth game and the visit to Aston Villa on February 10 if he is found guilty.

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