Man United still patching up defense for Fulham

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

with Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho and Joe Cole all set to return

to its starting lineup.

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.

“Cesc Fabregas has a minor hamstring problem,” Wenger said.

“It could keep him out for eight to 10 days. If all goes well he

will be fit for next Sunday. If not, he could miss one more game.”

Midfielder Denilson is fit to play but leftback Gael Clichy

cannot return until next month.

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.