Valencia in line to make New Year comeback
Manchester United may be able to add Antonio Valencia earlier than expected to a side whose return to the top of the Premier League has coincided with a resurgence of their attacking options.
The 25-year-old Ecuadorian's season initially seemed over after he suffered a fracture of the tibia and fibula at Old Trafford against Rangers in September, with Alex Ferguson putting his return date as February at the earliest.
But Valencia has been able to dispense with the medical boot he has been wearing, walk without support and start basic exercises, and doctors are delighted with the way the leg is healing.
Valencia, whose contribution from the right was critical to Wayne Rooney's 34 goals last season, may be back by January if he maintains his progress.
Alongside the rehabilitation of Rooney, Valencia's recuperation bodes well for the second half of United's campaign, though it will be to younger and less utilised players that Ferguson will look in the Carling Cup quarter-final at West Ham tonight.
Few have more to prove than goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak, who has appeared only three times for United this season and who has grounds to feel that his hopes of a career at Old Trafford have gone, with Anders Lindegaard signing at the weekend for £3.5m.
Kuszczak is in his sixth season at United but has made only 54 appearances. He let his frustrations show last season when he suggested that Edwin van der Sar was unwilling to help him develop.
In September, he admitted he could follow the former United 'keeper Ben Foster in seeking a move.
"The years are going by and I will be 29 after this season. I want to enjoy football and I want to play," he said.
Another player who needs a major display tonight is Darron Gibson, whose contribution in last season's Carling Cup suggested he might be the coming man. The 23-year-old has not started a league game this season.
Having won the trophy on successive occasions, against Tottenham and Aston Villa in the final, Ferguson has challenged his team to make it a hat-trick this season and take a step towards becoming the next great United side.
"It would be great to win it three times in a row," he said. "The League Cup has become an interesting trophy now. It gives me an opportunity to play the young players, as I did against Wolves. They responded very well.
"The players who played against Wolves are hopefully the future of the club. There's a great potential there. All we have to do is develop that potential and realise it. By the time they are 24 or 25, we hope they will be the next Manchester United."
West Ham, dire in a 3-0 Old Trafford defeat in August, would be dealt a huge boost with a win over a club who have lifted this trophy three times in the past five years.
But Avram Grant's priorities lie at Sunderland on Sunday and though returning captain Scott Parker was integral to the 3-1 win over Wigan on Saturday, he seems unlikely to start tonight after failing to fully recover from a chest infection.
West Ham (probable, 4-3-3) -- Green; Reid, Tomkins, Upson, Ben-Haim; Behrami, Kovac, Barrera; Obinna, Cole, Piquionne.
Manchester United (4-4-2) -- Kuszczak; Brown, J Evans, Smalling, Fabio; Bebe, Gibson, Fletcher, Obertan; Hernandez, Macheda.
West Ham v Manchester United,
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