Ferdinand-Vidic defensive axis to be re-united
MANCHESTER UNITED may finally have their first-choice central defensive pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic restored to the side for tonight's encounter with West Ham at Old Trafford, four months after the pair last appeared together.
United's defensive weaknesses have contributed to six league defeats and only one team has ever won the Premier League title with more -- Blackburn Rovers were crowned champions in 1994/5 despite losing seven times.
The Ferdinand-Vidic partnership has never looked quite as formidable since Fernando Torres reduced it to shreds in Liverpool's 4-1 win at Old Trafford last March and it was in another defeat to Rafael Benitez's side -- at Anfield on October 25 -- that the two last started the same game together. Vidic's dismissal in the 2-0 defeat meant they did not end it together.
Ferdinand is clear to start, having concluded a four-match ban, while there are indications that Vidic, fit enough for the bench in the 3-1 defeat at Everton -- where Jonny Evans endured a torrid time in central defence -- has recovered from the calf problem which led him to pull out of the FA Cup third round tie against Leeds United and the Premier League visit to Arsenal.
United's defence has hardly leaked goals in the time the preferred partnership has been absent, with Ferdinand struggling with a back complaint. The side have conceded 24 goals in 26 matches since the Anfield defeat, though the ease with which AC Milan created chances in the San Siro last Tuesday and Everton managed to capitalise on superior speed and reactions on Saturday, give cause for concern for Ferguson. United cannot afford defeat against Gianfranco Zola's side tonight. Chelsea's win at Wolves already places them four points clear at the top.
Another decision for Ferguson is whether to deploy Wayne Rooney tonight, having seen him fail to hit recent standards at Goodison Park. Michael Owen, whose Premier League starts have been limited to just five during Rooney's most profitable season for United, reflected yesterday that his World Cup hopes are now "a long shot" and admitted that Rooney's success has contributed to that fact.
"Rooney is currently as good as any striker in the world," Owen said. "(That's) unfortunate for me, because it means I get less time. But he's fantastic. He's changed his role in this last year or so really. He's always played outside the box as a sort of second striker with other goal scorers in the team.
"When I was playing with him with England, I would be the one scoring most of the goals, he would be in behind but now we've lost the goals of Cristiano Ronaldo and he's stepped in and become one of the world's best."
West Ham go into the game with renewed confidence after their first back-to-back wins since March 2009, with the return to fitness of England striker Carlton Cole and Guillermo Franco contributing. Benni McCarthy's knee injury is likely to keep him out. (© Independent News Service)