Settled defence crucial to Manchester United's Champions League hopes says Sir Alex Ferguson

 

Sir Alex Ferguson acknowledges a settled defence will be crucial for Manchester United in Europe this season.

The memories of last year's embarrassing group stage exit were fresh enough for Ferguson to leave Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa out of his starting line-up for the weekend win over Wigan.

Both should be involved against Galatasaray at Old Trafford tomorrow night, providing the firepower needed to shoot United to an expected victory in the opening game of their latest Champions League quest.

However, it is at the back Ferguson knows his side must improve.

Rarely have United been able to field a regular defence during a three-season period of group stage matches on home soil that has secured a paltry total of three wins.

Already this term, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have been ruled out for extended periods, forcing Michael Carrick into service as an emergency central defender.

Even allowing for Rio Ferdinand missing the odd game, such measures should not be required again now that Jonny Evans has recovered from an ankle injury.

But Ferguson realises the position is precarious - and of huge significance.

"At the moment with Smalling and Jones long-term, I'm left with three centre-backs, Vidic, Ferdinand and Evans," said the United boss.

"If I was guaranteed two of those being fit for the rest of the season I'd take that gladly right now.

"It's not been the case in the last two or three years, when we have had a really rough ride.

"I've had to alternate centre-backs. Go back two years ago and we had Carrick, (Darren) Fletcher and (Patrice) Evra there.

"That's a key issue. I can't hide that. I just hope I get a bit of luck in that respect."

The situation is not helped by a goalkeeping power battle between Anders Lindegaard and David de Gea.

Twelve months ago, Ferguson responded to mistakes from De Gea in his first few weeks as a United player by insisting the Spain youngster was his number one.

But with errors continuing to be made, that situation is no longer certain.

Lindegaard was selected against Wigan and though De Gea may return tomorrow, the odds must be against the former Atletico Madrid man retaining his place for Sunday's crucial trip to Liverpool, where he was blamed for United's FA Cup exit last term.

"The most important thing I'm trying to achieve is experience of the English game," said Ferguson.

"They are both young and don't have the experience of an Edwin van der Sar or Peter Schmeichel so alternating is not a problem for me.

"That's the policy I have been adopting and I'm comfortable with it."

Ferguson confirmed Kagawa is fit to make his European bow after shrugging off a back complaint he picked up on international duty with Japan.

The summer arrival from Borussia Dortmund has quickly struck up an impressive partnership with Van Persie, although even with Wayne Rooney sidelined, Ferguson does have alternatives in attack, in stark contrast to his defensive woes.

Javier Hernandez is one. Due to a series of setbacks, the Mexican struggled to emulate his stellar debut season last term.

However, after being given an extended summer break by Ferguson, who told Hernandez he could not link up with his country's gold medal-winning Olympic squad as had been anticipated prior to London 2012, the 24-year-old is refreshed and ready to play a full part in United's quest for silverware.

"I don't like comparisons," Hernandez said.

"Some people thought my first season was very good, others felt it was OK. The last one was bad for some people, others thought it was OK or good.

"I enjoyed my break. Only time will decide whether it helps me but I am happy. I am enjoying myself.

"I still feel I am the luckiest player in the world to be at this club.

"I will be ready when the boss needs me, whether that is to start or be a substitute.

"I am focused on the most important thing, which is tomorrow's game."

PA

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