Mike Phelan believes Tuesday's Carling Cup tie with Middlesbrough offers Cristiano Ronaldo the perfect opportunity to ease his way back into Manchester United's starting line-up.
Ronaldo has been named in a 20-man squad for the Old Trafford encounter and, while the Portugal winger has come on as substitute against Villarreal and, 48 hours ago, in the battling draw at Chelsea, Sir Alex Ferguson knows he cannot reach the level he needs to be an effective force in the Premier League without further match sharpness.
"Cristiano is maybe a couple of weeks behind everybody else but his progression has been fantastic," said Phelan, who was confirmed as Ferguson's full-time assistant a fortnight ago.
"The work he has put into his recovery and training has been first class and he has been introduced into games for 15 or 20 minutes at a time.
"He knows he still needs a few more minutes to get to the level he wants to be at. Tonight is a great opportunity to do that, which is why his name is in the squad."
Ferguson will have a few more genuine first-teamers than usual in his side, with Anderson and Nani also needing games. England duo Gary Neville and Owen Hargreaves might be involved as well, although there is confusion over the availability of striker Manucho, who was due to make his debut.
In his programme notes, which were written last week, Sir Alex Ferguson suggested the Angolan would miss out due to a foot injury.
However, Phelan on Monday claimed Manucho would be in a 20-man squad for the cup tie.
There will also be the usual scattering of youngsters, although young Brazilian Fabio Da Silva misses out, having been forced to undergo a shoulder operation.
England Under-19 international Danny Welbeck is also expected to be handed at least a place on the bench.
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