United midfield crisis as Rafael looks to banish 'pain'

Chris Bascombe

Manchester United face a midfield crisis heading into Sunday's derby with Premier League champions City.

Alex Ferguson will be without Anderson, Antonio Valencia and Nani through injury. Tom Cleverley is almost certainly out with the calf injury he sustained during the Champions League defeat to Cluj.

With Shinji Kagawa also still unfit, Ferguson has Phil Jones, Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes to start alongside Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher. It is a far-from-ideal preparation for United as they seek to avenge the misery inflicted upon them in the league by City last season.

While the injury news at Old Trafford is gloomy, City manager Roberto Mancini, in contrast, has been buoyed by the prospect of David Silva recovering from a hamstring problem.

City may go into the game unbeaten, but the prospect of a six-point gap opening up between the neighbours makes it a pivotal fixture, given the way the season is shaping up as a two-horse race.

United striker Wayne Rooney said: "It looks like it is starting to go that way. But this is a crazy league and anything can happen. We saw Chelsea at the top for the first eight or nine games and we were five or six points behind then, so you have to stay focused for all of the games and try to stay near the top of the league."

Defender Rafael says the manner in which United lost the title to City last May is a major incentive to wrest the crown back. "I will never forget how I felt that night after we had lost it and that will give us more motivation. We just looked at each other and said, 'How did we lose it by a few goals?'" said Rafael.

"We are determined to make up for losing the title. The way we lost it on goal difference made it even harder to accept. It took ages to get over it and the pain is still there. The derby is getting more and more important each season. It would be a very important to build a six-point lead over them before Christmas. That would make them nervous and make it easier for us."

Meanwhile, United are set to be tempted by a £5m bid from Paris St-Germain for Patrice Evra, which would allow them to recoup virtually their entire outlay on a defender who no longer reaches the heights of previous seasons.

Evra, a PSG supporter, is understood to be keen on the idea of playing for his hometown side, who he trained with in 1997 before later joining Italian side Marsala. A left-back is one of PSG's three primary targets for January and Evra could see his £90,000-a-week salary increase by joining the club that is now funded by the Qatar Investment Authority. (© Daily Telegraph, London)