Manchester United were last night handed a major boost for the Premier League run-in and their Champions League semi-final second leg against Arsenal next week when scans on their stand-in captain Rio Ferdinand revealed he has not broken a rib and will not, as widely feared, be out for the rest of the season.
United had dreaded the worst after Ferdinand was taken from Old Trafford in an ambulance after the 1-0 first-leg win against Arsenal on Wednesday. He was in hospital overnight, in agony after a blow to his ribs incurred in a second-half aerial challenge with Nicklas Bendtner and dosed up on painkillers. But when the defender underwent an X-ray yesterday afternoon he was found to have suffered only bruising and swelling. He will miss United's Premier League visit to Middlesbrough tomorrow but there is a chance he will be fit for the second leg of the Arsenal tie on Tuesday.
Ferdinand was already feeling much better by late yesterday and the results of the X-ray confirmed his own initial conviction that the damage was not as severe as the pain had suggested and that he would be fit for the game at the Emirates Stadium. It was some welcome good news for a player who has suffered his share of injuries this season, first a recurring back spasm problem, then a groin strain that kept him out of the United side for much of the rocky period following the 4-1 defeat at home to Liverpool in March. Only when he returned for the Champions League quarter-final in Porto did United's defence have a semblance of their normal solidity.
Jonny Evans will deputise for Ferdinand at the Riverside tomorrow in a game which will see Ferguson forced once again to gamble with a weakened side with the Arsenal tie in mind. Darron Gibson, Federico Macheda and Danny Welbeck may all feature.
There is also a strong chance that Ferguson will give Wayne Rooney a break, perhaps keeping him on the bench after an immense workload in the past two matches. The way Rooney overwhelmed the Arsenal right-back Bacary Sagna in the first half on Wednesday was one of the most significant factors in United's dominance, though Rooney did not consider it one of his better nights. "I didn't think I had one of my better games," he said. "I did a job for the team but going forward I felt I didn't really offer too much so hopefully I can improve on that next week. In some games it's good to play out there on the left because you get a bit more space and can see the whole game so at times it is better to be out there and on others it's better to be in the middle."
Cristiano Ronaldo, who spurned several good opportunities to score, was less self-critical and believes that he can score 30 goals this season. "I've got 23 now so it's possible. I try to score all the time," he said. "We've got seven games left if we get to [the Champions League final in] Rome so hopefully I'll be good in those last seven games and maybe get to that total. Maybe the prospect of more trophies is pushing me on."
Despite Carlos Tevez's energetic display against Arsenal, the Argentine striker seems to be no more certain about his Old Trafford future. Asked whether he was confident of being at the club next year he said: "It's very difficult to say. I don't know." He appeared to be unhappy to make way for Dimitar Berbatov after 66 minutes, prompting the "Sign him on" chants which have become familiar in the stadium. "I know that the fans chant my name and sing the song about the manager signing me," Tevez said. "They have always been very good to me. It's emotional for me."