Defensive dilemma for Ferguson
Manchester United aim to avoid getting caught up by a general strike in Spain - and set up their own blockade against Valencia instead. The country is set to come to a standstill on Wednesday in protest at savage cuts being imposed by the government to try and balance the books in one of Europe's most debt-ridden economies. As a former trade unionist in the Glasgow shipyards, Sir Alex Ferguson is well versed in politics and reacted jovially when asked whether he was concerned about getting caught up in the action. Of far more concern to the Scot is shoring up a defence that has leaked nine goals in its five Premier League games, which means the return of Rio Ferdinand has not come a moment too soon. "Rio is much fitter now," said Ferguson. "He has had plenty of training, a couple of reserve games and matches against Rangers and Scunthorpe. "He was out for five months so he still probably needs another game or so. "But the important thing is he is coming back and we look forward to having him back." Ferguson claimed to still be undecided about whether to select Ferdinand or Jonny Evans to feature alongside skipper Nemanja Vidic at the Mestalla. Yet if that were true, it would be an odd situation given Ferguson left Ferdinand out of Sunday's clash with Bolton purely because he does not have the strength yet to get himself through two arduous tests in the space of four days. Merely by missing that Scunthorpe encounter to watch Valencia in action personally against Atletico Madrid last Wednesday, Ferguson was underlining the importance of what will be United's 19th away game against Spanish opposition, from which they have emerged victorious just once, against Deportivo La Coruna in 2002. "When you look at that statistic, obviously it is the hardest place for us to go," he said. "Spain has produced cup-winning teams for years. You have to recognise that. "The standard of Spanish football has been good for as long as I can remember, so we have a tough game tomorrow. We are all aware of that. "But that is the great thing about the European Cup. You are going to face the best teams from Spain, Germany and Italy. "That is what makes it such a fantastic tournament." And that is still what makes it the best tournament for the United boss, even when it delivers the type of crushing disappointment he experienced last season when his side had a winning position snatched away from them by Bayern Munich. "The Champions League is the biggest challenge, simply because you are playing the best teams," he said. "You want your team always to be classed alongside the great ones who have won this tournament so many times. "There is a demand and expectation for us to do well in Europe, which I quite agree with. "Sometimes we have disappointed and sometimes we have been unlucky. But that tells you the type of tournament it is. "There can be one bad moment in a game and you lose it, as we experienced against Bayern Munich last season. "But it drives you on. Hopefully this year we will be better." With Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs all ruled out, Ferguson has some tricky selection posers to solve. Darron Gibson has tended to be used in Europe recently, so he is in contention for a midfield spot, possibly ahead of Michael Carrick, who has only just returned after an Achilles complaint and is badly lacking match practice. The whole shape of the team will be determined by whether Dimitar Berbatov is selected as a lone striker, something he did well at Bolton last season but was subsequently woeful at Blackburn a few weeks later, or partner him with Michael Owen. Sparingly used this season, to the extent there have been suggestions of a January move away from Old Trafford, Owen has scored three times in a week to emphasise his well being and draw warm praise from his manager. "Michael's performances in training have been terrific," said Ferguson. "I have said that since he joined us. "The goals he has scored don't go unnoticed either. "He is an outstanding footballer, who has improved since he came to our club."
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