United engine room misfiring
SIR Alex Ferguson's top-of-the-range United limousine appears to have been struck by engine trouble. The champions' midfield department was highlighted by the Reds boss at the start of the season as a potential selection minefield. Talking on the eve of the campaign, he said: "It still presents me with the same problems - what to do with the centre of midfield." "We have that many options in there my door will be worn out by the end of the year." Already it seems a couple of sets of knuckles have been rapping furiously on Fergie's Carrington training HQ, if the rumours are true. Michael Carrick and Anderson have been the subject of speculation that they have not seen eye-to-eye with their boss. The alleged Carrick fall-out surfaced on fans' forums on the web and followed a quote attributed to Sir Alex when Carrick was omitted from the 18 on duty for the league opener against Birmingham. "There's no injury to Michael Carrick. You'll have to ask him why he's out," Ferguson was said to have told a TV station. It followed a supposed verbal spat between Carrick and the manager at the Community Shield against Chelsea. Carrick speculation The 28-year-old has won the Premier League title in every one of his three seasons as a United player since he moved from Spurs for around £18m in the summer of 2006. But the speculation over a bust-up has also sparked talk of a return to White Hart Lane for the England midfielder in a swap deal - plus £10m for Spurs - that would bring Luka Modric to Old Trafford. It has been a tough start to the season for Carrick who has only played in the defeat at Burnley in the league so far and missed a critical penalty at Turf Moor. But Brazilian Anderson is also losing out in the great midfield battle raging in the title holders' squad. He, too, is now reported to have had a spat with Fergie. The 21-year-old is alleged to have argued with the United manager after he was left out of his Wembley XI for the Community Shield. The club have refused to comment on the stories, but Anderson returned on the left wing at Burnley. He was switched for 14 minutes of the second half to the centre of midfield before being replaced after 59 minutes by Antonio Valencia. While disagreements are as commonplace in the football environment as they are in any workforce, the midfield conundrum for Fergie is going to cause him hassle this term as he predicted. Though the Reds boss spotlighted the middle two of the engine room, he can probably include the two wing berths as well. Already in three Premier League matches and the Community Shield warm-up he has used nine midfielders. That includes six players in the middle - Fletcher, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, Anderson, Gibson - and five - Park, Nani, Valencia, Giggs, Anderson - in the wing roles. While no-one has exactly shone, the winning combo so far is the Darren Fletcher and Paul Scholes link in the centre, with the pairing having started the wins against Birmingham and Wigan. They were flanked both times by newcomer Antonio Valencia on the right and the rejuvenated Nani on the left. Saturday's showdown with Arsenal may give some clue as to what Ferguson views as his strongest quartet, though a horses-for-courses policy is likely to see all nine rotated. Last spring the United manager crammed his midfield against the Gunners in the two-legged Champions League semi-final. He even included Wayne Rooney as a left winger, an idea that now seems to have been abandoned. But Fletcher and the alleged `naughty boys' Anderson and Carrick were all involved in the sensational 4-1 aggregate success against Arsene Wenger's side. Park joined the glut of midfielders for the Emirates second leg clash. Fletcher Industry Fletcher's industry has become a must for United. His absence in Rome against Barcelona, due to a cruel suspension, highlighted the Reds need for the Scot. Barca's Iniesta and Xavi lorded it over United in the midfield battle and nobody could get the ball off the Spaniards. Fletcher's snapping at their heels would have at least caused them some concern. The Scottish international could possibly emerge as the one mainstay in the engine-room numbers game. United fans wanted Fergie to add to his headache by investing heavily in Bayern Munich's French international Franck Ribery during the summer. The Reds' approach, among many others, was knocked back by the Germans. Another former Bayern midfielder Owen Hargreaves may add to Ferguson's selection poser if he returns fully fit. Whatever happens, it could be that the Carrington handyman might need a couple of spare pieces of hardboard and a few nails in readiness for an unsettling time for all in the midfield department.
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