Sir Alex Ferguson has revealed that Ryan Giggs could be fit for next week's Manchester derby. Giggs has played just once since the end of September after being struck down by a hamstring complaint and was among half a dozen key Manchester United players to stay at home ahead of tonight's Champions League encounter with Bursaspor.
However, the veteran Welshman returned to training last Thursday and is in contention for the trip to Eastlands on 10 November, a game which has now taken on greater significance given the pressure that is mounting on Roberto Mancini.
"Ryan started training last Thursday," confirmed Ferguson yesterday. "It was just general stuff with the physios. He should be ready in 10 to 14 days but it is possible he could be ready for the derby."
However, Ferguson is sticking to his assessment that Wayne Rooney will miss out, even though the England striker has started training again after his brief break in Dubai to recover from his much publicised ankle injury.
"He did a bit of running yesterday for the first time," said Ferguson. "I was quite surprised and he is keen to get back. But we are monitoring the situation with the lad. He is just jogging and not doing much but when players can start jogging it gives you better circulation than just being in the gym. But I still think it will be three weeks."
Ferguson also confirmed four players – Anderson, Jonny Evans, Darron Gibson and Federico Macheda – have missed out this week due to a virus that has hit the United squad, while Michael Owen is still missing with a hamstring injury.
Another absentee is Rio Ferdinand, who insists he has not been omitted due to his long-standing back complaint, but Ferguson acknowledged a degree of caution was being taken.
"We have decided to leave him at home," said Ferguson. "He has come on very well in the last few weeks but the form of Chris Smalling makes it easier for me in that respect."
Smalling will partner Nemanja Vidic in the centre of defence in Ferdinand's absence, as he did against the Turks at Old Trafford two weeks ago, a comfortable 1-0 win for United.
Bursapor, the Turkish champions, have yet to score in their debut season in the Champions League. They have lost all three of their games, but Michael Carrick insists there will be no complacency in the United ranks.
"We've got to go to Turkey – it's a long journey, it's a different atmosphere and we'll be playing against players we don't see week in, week out. That brings its own challenges," the England international said. "We're well prepared but some of the games are new to us and it's an experience. It's not going to be easy, but we're in a great position overall in the group and hopefully we can build on that."
Bursaspor coach Ertugrul Saglam said his team have struggled to manage the step up from domestic football to the Champions League. "There is a huge difference in quality between the rest of the group and our squad," said Saglam, who has a full-strength squad to choose from.
"In Turkey, we became successful in a very short period of time and all of a sudden we found ourselves competing in the Champions League. It is difficult to challenge the opponents we have."
Bursaspor, who are known as the Green Crocodiles, can at least take some comfort from their domestic form. They are undefeated this season and yet again lead the Turkish league with 24 points from 10 games.
Ferguson believes moving on to 10 points with a victory over Bursapor, who last season became the first team outside Turkey's big four to win the domestic title, will guarantee United qualification even though they could still be caught by Valencia and Rangers.
Three key clashes
Chris Smalling v Sercan Yildirim
Without the absent Rio Ferdinand, understudy Chris Smalling is expected to make his third Champions League start of the current campaign. Although the Turkish champions are yet to score in the competition, striker Yildirim's pace and movement will provide a stern test for the ex-Fulham defender.
Luis Nani v Gokcek Vederson
In-form winger Nani, scorer of the only goal in the home fixture two weeks ago, has struck five times for United this season and is beginning to turn his potential into match-winning performances. Left-back Vederson will be looking to subdue the Portuguese talisman for longer than he managed at Old Trafford.
Darren Fletcher v Ivan Ergic
The combative Scot, who missed the 2008-09 final due to suspension, is the engine-room of United's midfield, providing the destructive, ball-winning skills vital for European success. He will need to be at his best to prevent Ergic linking up with Yildirim and adding to his recent run of four league goals.