Injuries have forced Ferguson to go back to basics

MANCHESTER UNITED vs BENFICA

MANCHESTER UNITED manager Sir Alex Ferguson admits he has been forced to abandon the cavalier style that characterised his side’s early season form as a result of an unprecedented injury crisis.

United have responded to their 6-1 derby-day defeat against Manchester City by rattling off five consecutive wins without having conceded a goal.

Despite those victories, the style and swagger which saw them score eight against Arsenal and five at Bolton in the early weeks of the campaign has been replaced by a more pragmatic approach.

Ferguson has already fielded nine different central midfield combinations this season, while the injuries suffered by every member of his defensive unit have, by his own admission, adversely affected United’s fluency.

“There have been some changes in the team from the one that started the season,” said Ferguson, ahead of tonight’s Champions League clash against Benfica, in which Wayne Rooney is expected to feature, despite having taken no part in training yesterday

“You don’t envisage having quite so many injuries. Everyone was fresh at the start. We had been through a brilliant pre-season in the States with not one injury. Then you are hit with a little list.

“It does unsettle the balance of the team. Sometimes we are having to rethink which team to play whereas when the team is in full flow you don’t need to worry.”

KNOW YOUR ENEMY | BENFICA

PERMUTATIONS
Victory for United would see them qualify for the knockout stages with a game to spare, while they could go through with a point, were Otelul Galati to beat Basel.

FORM
Benfica, undefeated domestically, sit joint top of the Portuguese league with Porto. Three wins and two draws from their last five fixtures suggests they travel to Old Trafford in rude health.

SHOP WINDOW
Gifted midfielder Nicolas Gaitan, 23, has been touted as a potential United target. Last month he signed a new five-year deal with a release clause of £38.5m.