Ferdinand faces uncertain future as fledglings hover
Rio Ferdinand's position as first-choice partner to Nemanja Vidic at the heart of Manchester United's defence is under threat.
United manager Alex Ferguson now views Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling as genuine rivals to the England captain.
Ferdinand (31) could line up alongside Smalling in tonight's Carling Cup third-round tie at Scunthorpe -- with Ferguson keen to expose both players to first-team action after relying on Vidic and Evans as his defensive partnership for the majority of this season.
Smalling -- a £12m signing from Fulham -- has impressed Ferguson with his progress since arriving at Old Trafford this summer and the 20-year-old earned plaudits for his assured performance on his full debut for the club against Rangers in the Champions League last week.
Ferguson has made no secret of his view that Smalling can develop into a long-term replacement for Ferdinand, but the pace of the youngster's development has surprised the United manager. Ferdinand, who has made just one appearance since returning after three months out with a knee injury, is now facing a dual threat from Smalling and Evans.
A succession of injuries suffered by Ferdinand have tested Ferguson's faith in the £30m former Leeds defender's ability to embark on a sustained uninterrupted run of games alongside Vidic.
Ferdinand has figured in just 41 of United's 101 competitive fixtures since December 2008. Ferguson admitted he chose Vidic ahead of him for the captaincy because he wanted someone he could rely on to play regularly. With two-and-a-half years to run on his United contract, Ferdinand will be given the opportunities to prove his injury problems are behind him, but the emergence of Smalling and Evans has increased the pressure to perform.
Ferguson is set to hand Bebe, the £7.4m Portuguese forward, his senior debut at Glanford Park, although he is likely to start on the bench for the cup holders, with Michael Owen (above) and Federico Macheda expected to start. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Scunthorpe v Manchester Utd, Live Sky Sports 2, 7.45