OWEN HARGREAVES Memories of the England midfielder's performance in Moscow against Chelsea in the 2008 Champions League final are fading. The influence Hargreaves had on the Reds' engine room that memorable might in Russia promised much for his Old Trafford career. It was arguably his finest hour for the Reds. The recollections maybe dimming but there is no doubt the grit and guile that Hargreaves has in his locker is a much needed commodity in United's engine room. After two career-saving knee operations in America and months and months of rehab the 29-year-old is now surely facing a make-or-break return. He came back from another recovery stint in the US that cost him pre-season and is now catching up with his training at Carrington. A comeback has to be on the cards soon and then the answer as to whether Hargreaves can still be the same inspiration will be answered. United need to know the answer sooner rather than later because if Sir Alex is no longer able to call on the true pre-tendinitis Hargreaves then a replacement figure of similar experience and stature is a must.
MIDFIELD Numbers wise, there is every reason to call United's engine room strong in depth. But depth of quality has become a worrying issue among the support. A chunk of the department have got some serious convincing to do to prove they can stamp their impact on matches for United in this key area. Anderson, Ji-sung Park, Michael Carrick and Darron Gibson have some work to do to sway opinion back in their favour. Anderson has had injury problems to deal with but even before last February's knee ligament injury his early impact on arrival at the club had not been reproduced consistently enough. His progress chart was flat lining. Park has admitted he hasn't been on his game this season after the World Cup with South Korea. His energy and workrate is unquestioned but beyond that you have to wonder if there is anything else to beef up his contribution. Carrick suffered for his efforts in the fatal Champions League semi-final second leg against Bayern Munich. His stock appeared to slump in Fergie's eyes at the end of last season. This term he has struggled with an Achilles heel problem and is only just back in contention. There is no doubt he has ground to make up but the fact Aston Villa are keen suggests the word might be out that he would be available. Gibson has not had the match time to get his foot in the senior door and United fans want to see more than his trademark howitzers if they are to recognise him as a contender. If those four do not respond en masse United's midfield could look lightweight and heavily reliant on old stagers Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs plus Darren Fletcher. GOALKEEPER If Edwin Van der Sar were 10 years younger and guaranteed an injury-free future then you might as well forget dossiers on potential incoming keepers. But the Dutchman is 40 in a few weeks and there are no assurances how long he can keep going. Ben Foster came to the conclusion in the summer that he wouldn't dislodge him and couldn't hang around to see if the situation changed and moved to Birmingham City. Next summer, Tomasz Kuszczak could come to the same conclusion. It would leave Fergie with a choice of a near 41-year-old and rookie Ben Amos. Danish keeper Anders Lindegaard of Aalesunds is the latest reportedly getting the closely watched treatment. There is no doubt the department is going to need revamping in the not-too-distant future. STRIKERS Michael Owen quickly went from Bolton sub hero, scoring the equaliser at the Reebok, to unused against Valencia, to ineffective starter against Sunderland. It appears the 30-year-old will forever be facing that roller-coaster existence for as long as he stays at United. His contract ends next summer and there has to be a question mark as to whether either party will want to continue with the arrangement. Federico Macheda is attracting loan interest from Everton and Lazio but in the past Fergie has said he wanted to keep his Italian teenager under his watchful eye rather than let him loose out of his sight. But Macheda might benefit from a spell away like Danny Welbeck (Sunderland) and Mame Biram Diouf (Blackburn).That would leave the trio of Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and the exciting emerging talent of Chicharito. As good as all the five are capable of on their day it still doesn't have the threat of the Yorke, Cole, Solskjaer and Sheringham attacking combo Ferguson is desperate to recreate. But it is hard to see where a hitman of United's level of proven quality will turn up from in the January transfer window.