Manchester United may have opened their Premier League season with a victory – a hard-fought encounter against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns saw the champions emerge with a 2-1 win courtesy of goals from Wayne Rooney and a Steven Reid own goal – but the headaches are mounting for Sir Alex Ferguson with regards to injuries to key defenders.
Patrice Evra missed the match against Roy Hodgson’s side through injury, although he is set to return for the visit of Tottenham Hotspur on Monday week. Nonetheless, the United boss is looking at being without three of his first choice defenders for the opening Premier League match at Old Trafford.
Prior to the match at the Hawthorns, news emerged that Brazilian right-back Rafael – likely to be first-choice in that role this season following the departures of John O’Shea and Wes Brown to Sunderland in the close season – dislocated his shoulder during training at the club’s training ground and will be missing for the first 10 weeks of the new season.
Now following the victory at the Hawthorns, United are going to have to do without their two most experienced defenders, England international Rio Ferdinand and club captain Nemanja Vidic, who both succumbed to second-half problems against the Baggies.
Vidic was first to leave the field, limping off in the 50th minute to be replaced by Jonny Evans, with a calf problem. After the match, Ferguson said that he believes the Serbian warrior will be missing for two weeks, making him doubtful for the game against Arsenal at Old Trafford in 14 days time.
The United skipper was soon joined on the bench by his more cultured defensive partner Ferdinand, who pulled up with a hamstring problem after chasing Albion forward Somen Tchoyi down the left wing. The 32-year-old will be missing for six weeks according to Ferguson, which will rule him out of England’s Euro 2012 qualifiers with Bulgaria and Wales.
The injuries to the experienced trio will mean that new £16.5m England under-21 international defender Phil Jones will be thrust into the United defence sooner than expected, having been expected to be eased into life at Old Trafford. Moreover, in Rafael’s absence, it is likely that Chris Smalling will continue at right-back, unless Ferguson chooses to switch Rafael’s twin-brother Fabio from left-back to the right-side, as he did on occasions last season, to cope with the devastating pace of Gareth Bale when Spurs visit.
Pleasingly for Ferguson however will be the return to form from Northern Ireland international Evans, who defended resolutely against West Brom during his 40-minute cameo, having impressed in the Community Shield comeback against Manchester City last weekend.
Evans was largely chastised for a number of disappointing performances last season – most notably in the League Cup quarter-final hammering by West Ham United last December, when Carlton Cole gave him a torrid time – and appeared nervous and low on confidence, but would appear to have put that behind him, and is now likely to line up against Spurs next Monday in a previously untried back-line containing Evra (likely to captain the side), Jones and Smalling/Fabio.