Ferguson to wield axe on FA Cup flops for City clash
Alex Ferguson is considering leaving out at least seven of the Manchester United players who led the Premier League champions to FA Cup humiliation against Leeds United when he selects his team for tomorrow's Carling Cup semi-final tie at Manchester City.
The United manager insisted that "a lot of these players won't be playing on Wednesday" as he condemned the performance against the League One club which resulted in his first FA Cup defeat at the hands of lower-league opponents.
Captain Gary Neville and £30.75m forward Dimitar Berbatov are likely to make way for Rafael da Silva and Michael Owen at Eastlands. And Ferguson is also ready to overhaul his entire midfield by relegating Gabriel Obertan, Anderson, Darron Gibson and Danny Welbeck to the bench against Roberto Mancini's team.
With Patrice Evra due to return in place of Fabio da Silva, Ferguson is set to abandon his initial plan to field a youthful team at City by turning to senior figures such as Darren Fletcher, Antonio Valencia, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.
There could be a further change in the centre of defence if Nemanja Vidic, who has emerged as a summer target for Real Madrid, proves his fitness after pulling out of the starting line-up against Leeds with a nerve problem exacerbated during the pre-match warm-up.
Ferguson had been reluctant to field his senior players against City, preferring to hand his emerging players further experience in the Carling Cup. The United manager staunchly defended his youngsters after seeing them beaten 1-0 by Besiktas in the Champions League in November. But the manner of Sunday's defeat against Leeds, which was as much down to the failure of experienced figures such as Neville and Berbatov, has prompted Ferguson and his coaching staff to revise their plans for City.
Mike Phelan, Ferguson's assistant, said: "We will start to think a little bit differently with our selection for Wednesday. It's an important game, a big game, and I don't think we did ourselves justice against Leeds in certain departments of the field.
"I think we need to reflect on that and we need to get better. We had players out there who play for Manchester United and they did not perform as expected of them.
"This was a major blow. We need to be in finals of cup competitions like the FA Cup, so to go out at the stage we have is unacceptable.
"We fielded a team with a bit of balance to it. Normally we go either one way or the other. We either go experienced or we go youth. This time we picked a bit of a mixture and it didn't work for us. We got found out a little bit and didn't get the result we wanted."
A key concern for Ferguson, who is unlikely to be charged by the FA as a result of his criticism of referee Chris Foy's timekeeping against Leeds, is the failure of his young players to accelerate the likes of Giggs and Scholes towards retirement.
At 36 and 35 respectively, both Giggs and Scholes have outshone their younger team-mates this season, yet Ferguson is painfully aware that neither player can continue indefinitely.
The candidates to replace them in the long term have been unable to prove their credentials on a consistent basis, forcing Ferguson to identify Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik as a prime target this summer to fill the attacking midfield role once dominated by Scholes.
Ferguson has ruled out the prospect of player recruitment during the January transfer window, however, despite the club's injury problems, particularly in defence. "Inevitably, people look to this month's transfer window as a solution to our injury worries, but it's not the answer," the United boss said.
"A decent player would be looking for a three-year contract and I don't need that kind of addition. We will continue to scout and recruit young players to develop, but I won't be looking for a senior player to ease our defensive crisis.
"I would certainly like to see us at something like full strength for the visit to Eastlands, however, for what was already a challenging derby that has been revved up by the thought of a trip to Wembley for the Carling Cup final," he added.
Goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar is set to return to Old Trafford within 10 days following positive news on the condition of his wife, Annemarie, who suffered a suspected brain haemorrhage last month.
Annemarie will remain under observation in hospital over the next seven to 10 days, but doctors have informed the couple that she has suffered no permanent damage and is expected to make a full recovery. (© Daily Telegraph, London)