Carrick set for Manchester United return

Michael Carrick could make his first-team return for Manchester United in their Champions League group stage clash with Valencia tomorrow.

The midfielder has not started a game for United since the Community Shield and, although he did join up with the England squad for their opening Euro 2012 qualifiers, he was then sent for an injection to try to ease the discomfort from a niggling Achilles problem.

Sir Alex Ferguson reported on Friday that Carrick had returned to training and the former Tottenham star was on the flight to Spain this morning that departed without the injured Wayne Rooney.

Carrick's presence was counter-balanced by the absences of Paul Scholes and Gary Neville.

Although Neville has not featured since the draw with Everton at the start of the month, Scholes is regarded as a key man.

However, having used the 35-year-old for the full 90 minutes at Bolton, it seems Ferguson has opted to leave the veteran at home in readiness for Saturday's trip to Sunderland.

It left 22 players to make the trip, and there is an argument to be made that even without his injury, Rooney did not even deserve a place in Ferguson's starting line-up at the Mestalla Stadium tomorrow.

Dimitar Berbatov has been the Red Devils' stand-out offensive player so far this season and Michael Owen has scored three times in a week following Sunday's rescue act at Bolton.

Rooney's ankle niggle has provided a reason for Ferguson to leave him at home, which will allow the 24-year-old a chance to get his mind right following damaging allegations about his private life.

United are yet to offer any firm indication of how long Rooney will be absent for, with his next two opportunities to return coming against Sunderland in the Premier League on Saturday and for England in their Euro 2012 qualifier with Montenegro on October 12.

However, at least by confirming his absence at this early stage, matchday should be relatively free of diversions.

Ferguson will be thankful for that as United need to get their season back on track.

It could be argued Rooney's struggle for form has been a contributing factor to a stop-start opening that has seen United register four draws from seven matches in all competitions.

Yet that only tells part of the story, which is why Rooney's absence from the team flight to Spain through an ankle injury should have minimal effect.

Of far more importance is defensive solidity, which has been strangely absent for United so far but which they will undoubtedly require on Wednesday if they are to avoid defeat against a side that has shrugged off the summer departures of David Villa and David Silva to become the surprise early-season pace-setters in the Primera Division.

"It is going to be a difficult match," said midfielder Darren Fletcher.

"People might say it is not the same Valencia because they have lost Villa and Silva.

"But as we have seen at Manchester United, when you lose good players others step up to the mark and take on more responsibility.

"They have had a fantastic start."

United cannot say the same.

With Antonio Valencia and Ryan Giggs ruled out through injury, United do not have an abundance of wide players to call upon as they try to avoid defeat in one of Europe's most impressive stadiums.

"We have picked up experience of playing in Europe and we have confidence," said Fletcher.

"We know how to cope with the travel and the different styles of play.

"Against Spanish sides, keeping the ball is key.

"If you give the ball away cheaply, you might not see it for a few minutes and they will punish you."

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