Giggs, Berbatov and Evra absent from United squad for Amsterdam showdown with Ajax
Published 15/02/2012 | 13:02
RYAN Giggs, Dimitar Berbatov and Patrice Evra were all absent as Manchester United headed to Amsterdam on their first Europa League trip this morning.
Giggs' next United appearance will be his 900th, but it was always likely that after playing such an impressive part in his club's Premier League title charge, he would be excused a last-32 first-leg meeting with Ajax.
It was anticipated Berbatov and Evra would be involved, although with no official injury update, the reason for their absences is not likely to become known until this evening's pre-match press conference.
There was good news on the injury front though as Nani and Phil Jones both returned after recent absences.
In addition, Ashley Young and Tom Cleverley were named in a 20-man squad, along with youngsters Paul Pogba and Zeki Fryers.
Tomorrow's game will be the first time United have competed in a European match outside the Champions League since 1995, when they were beaten on away goals by Russian outfit Rotor Volgograd in a UEFA Cup first round tie.
However, whilst it might mean a Thursday night debut on Channel Five, a meeting with Ajax does sound like a Champions League game.
Striker Javier Hernandez accepts the Red Devils would have preferred to be in the main UEFA competition this week.
However, if they are to make their Europa League bow, there are few more famous names to do it against than the Dutch giants, who with four European Cups to their name have one more than the Red Devils.
"Both teams have come out of the Champions League and they both have a great history," said Hernandez.
"We have won a lot of European Cups between us, so it will be a very interesting game.
"We need to get used to the fact we are not in the Champions League this season.
"And the history of Manchester United is such that it doesn't matter which competition you are in, we want to win it, no matter who else is in it or whether it is an important trophy for other teams."
That Manchester City are potential opponents in the quarter-finals and beyond does give this European excursion added spice, even if a failure to beat Benfica or Basel in any of four group stages matches is not European form to get anyone worrying too much.
And, having maintained closer contact to City in the Premier League than most pundits expected on the night of that debacle in Switzerland, Sir Alex Ferguson may well take the opportunity to rest some key men before the domestic campaign resumes at Norwich on February 26.
That could offer an opportunity for Hernandez, whose appearances this term have been limited due to a combination of injury and Danny Welbeck's outstanding form.
"It has been a little bit frustrating because I have been injured a lot," he said.
"But there are some things you can't do anything about.
"I am happy and I am still enjoying it. It is a privilege to play for Manchester United, whether things are going good or bad, I want to keep that attitude."
That is the kind of unselfishness Ferguson adores.
And Hernandez is genuinely delighted at Welbeck's emergence.
"Danny Welbeck is a brilliant player," he said.
"He is only young but he went to Sunderland and did great things there. Then he came back here and has been unbelievable.
"That doesn't upset me, competition is normal at a club like this.
"You need to be at your best to help the team. That is the most important thing."