Man United still patching up defense for Fulham

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Manchester United still has problems in defense as it attempts to close the three-point gap at the top of the Premier League with a victory at Fulham on Saturda

Updated: December 18, 2009 17:29 IST
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Manchester United still has problems in defense as it attempts to close the three-point gap at the top of the Premier League with a victory at Fulham on Saturday.

Rio Ferdinand, John O'Shea, Gary Neville and Wes Brown are still out injured, Nemanja Vidic is carrying a calf strain and United manager Alex Ferguson this week let goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar visit his native Netherlands to have a second opinion on the knee injury that has kept him out for four weeks.

Ferguson was hoping to have the veteran back to help his side in its battle with Chelsea at the top of the standings but does not know when he will return. United could be level on points with Chelsea by the time the Blues play at West Ham on Sunday.

"Edwin is going back to Holland," Ferguson said. "It is a change of scenery for him and the Holland team doctor will have a look at the injury.

"He has never had an injury like this in his life before so we think it is a good idea and expect him back in a couple of days."

Fortunately for United, it does not have another Champions League match until it meets AC Milan in mid-February and does not meet any of its top four rivals in the domestic league until it travels to Arsenal on Jan. 31.

But Saturday's match could still be tricky.

Fulham won last season's corresponding fixture 2-0 on its way to a best-ever topflight finish of seventh place and is on a high after reaching the knockout phase of the Europa League this week.

Brown and Neville should be fit to return within the next 10 days but Vidic's chances of playing will only be clear once Ferguson sees how he reacts to training on Friday. Vidic limped out of Tuesday's 3-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Winger Nani is out for another two weeks with an ankle injury, but Ryan Giggs could be fit to return to midfield Saturday after signing a one-year contract extension.

Ferdinand and midfielder Owen Hargreaves should return next month.

"Rio is improving," Ferguson said. "He is much better now and not too far away, probably two or three weeks.

"And Owen is doing a bit better this week as well. He is getting there slowly and we hope he will be back by the end of January."

Chelsea won for the first time in five matches in midweek and is aiming to heap more trouble on relegation-threatened West Ham.

The Hammers have lost their last three matches and have not beaten their London rivals since 2003, losing eight of the past nine meetings. But the east London side is drawing upon the fact it managed to rally from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with another big side, Arsenal, already this season.

"Everyone is going to think it is a foregone conclusion and they are going to win but it is just 11 men against 11 men," West Ham midfielder Mark Noble said. "If we can go out there and play to our capabilities and make it hard for Chelsea, then you never know what the final score could be."

Arsenal probably needs a win against Hull on Saturday to stay in touch with the leaders but will be without captain Cesc Fabregas, who scored in Wednesday's 1-1 draw with Burnley but then limped off injured.

"The only thing that is sure is that he will not play on Saturday," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "Beyond that, it all depends on the scan. Is it a tightness that just presents a small risk on Saturday or is it a slight strain?

"If it is a tear, it is a small one and the maximum would be 10 days. So it is not longterm."

Also Saturday, fourth-place Aston Villa hosts Stoke, fifth-place Tottenham is at Blackburn, Liverpool is at Portsmouth and Sunderland is at Manchester City.

Birmingham is at Everton on Sunday, when Wolverhampton hosts Burnley. Wigan hosts Bolton in Monday's only game.

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