Sir Alex Ferguson insists Manchester United are in better shape to handle their defensive injury crisis than they were last December despite raising the spectre of Rio Ferdinand missing the remainder of the campaign.
After being at the centre of a will-he, won't-he debate about whether he will keep the England captaincy this week, the issue around Ferdinand has now switched to if the 32-year-old will be back in action before the season's end.
Although the defender has publicly stated how well his gym sessions have been going, Ferguson is a worried man, saying: "We are not looking at Rio as a short-term situation for us, he has been out for a few weeks now anyway and has not started training yet."
He added: "It looks to me as if we will be lucky to get him back for some point of the season.
"Calf injuries can be troublesome. I remember Bryan Robson, the year we won the FA Cup in 1990, was out for four months with a calf injury. It is looking that way again with Rio."
The one chink of light will be the availability of Northern Ireland Jonny Evans, who could provide some company for currently fit Fabio, Chris Smalling, Wes Brown, Patrice Evra, celebrating a recall to the French squad, and Park Ji-sung, sidelined since the Asian Cup in January.
"Hopefully Jonny Evans may be fit for Saturday, even if it is a bit of a risk," said Ferguson.
"He has trained all week but he has been out for such a long time."
Ferguson is hoping the forthcoming international fixtures will provide a break in a packed schedule that could come to United's aid.
Anderson is on the comeback trail, as is Owen Hargreaves, whose first-team action since September 2008 extends to a minute at Sunderland last season and five in this term's home encounter with Wolves in November when he limped off with a hamstring injury.
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