WAYNE ROONEY is challenging for a return to the Manchester United squad for tomorrow's League Cup tie against Newcastle United -- less than five weeks after sustaining a gash in his right thigh that threatened to keep him sidelined for two months.
Rooney resumed full training last week following extensive work in the gym and is hoping to continue working his way towards full fitness with a run-out against the Magpies at Old Trafford.
The 26-year-old suffered a wound that cut as deep as his right thigh bone following a freak collision with the boot of Fulham forward Hugo Rodallega during United's Premier League victory over the Cottagers on August 25.
But initial fears that the England striker would be out for up to two months were allayed following scans which ruled out a tear to Rooney's thigh muscle.
While manager Alex Ferguson has yet to decide whether to include Rooney, he confirmed that Scotland midfielder Darren Fletcher will continue his comeback after making his first appearance in 10 months as a substitute in the Champions league win over against Galatasaray last Wednesday.
Fletcher, who has been battling the bowel condition ulcerative colitis, has made impressive strides in recent weeks.
"Darren will certainly play against Newcastle -- that is the perfect game for him to start back," said Ferguson, who is also likely to include Ireland starlet Robbie Brady in his squad.
"Then we have the game against Tottenham and he could be involved in that. It depends on how he does on Wednesday.
"It will be his first 90 minutes since 10 months out, so it's a big one for him. He is handling the condition at the moment and, as we saw the other night, he is looking fine.
"It is a matter of hoping the condition stays dormant, and he is handling his diet well. Hopefully he gets that break."
United captain Nemanja Vidic could miss Saturday's match against Tottenham after complaining of stiffness in his right knee prior to last Sunday's victory at Anfield. Vidic underwent cruciate ligament surgery on the joint in December.
"He was just feeling a bit tight around about his knee and we decided just to give him a break (at Liverpool)," said Ferguson. "Hopefully he will be all right next week."
Patrice Evra, meanwhile, has insisted that he is prepared to fight to keep his place at Old Trafford following the recent arrival of Dutch full-back Alexander Buttner.
The signing of Buttner from Vitesse Arnhem, combined with Evra's inconsistent form last season, has led to suggestions that the France international faces an uncertain future at United, but Evra claims he has no concerns.
"I am not the kind of guy who reads the papers or goes onto the internet, so when I am not playing, I just stay with my family, so I wasn't aware of personal criticism," said the Frenchman.
"It is easy to reach the top of the pyramid, but to stay there is the hardest part. I always try to stay on the top. I tried last year, I will next year and the year after that.
"It is six years I have been here and I want to be the best. That is my target every year. I am not being arrogant, but I am my biggest challenge.
"When I hear people say Patrice never had someone to fight him for his place, I just answer they have to remember I have fought with two great left-backs.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)