Neville has no doubts over Tevez departure

Champions will field a blend of youth and experience at first leg of semi-final derby
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The Independent Football

The Manchester United captain Gary Neville has reopened the debate surrounding the loss of Carlos Tevez across the city last summer, suggesting ahead of the keenly anticipated League Cup semi-final first leg at Eastlands tonight that the financial demands of the Argentine's representatives were too great for him to stay.

Tevez always insisted that he left Old Trafford for footballing reasons alone, after Sir Alex Ferguson refused to play him in important fixtures, though the United chief executive, David Gill, suggested that the outstanding sum being demanded by the player's representatives – £25m is understood to have been the figure payable to make his loan permanent – was "a bit toppy".

Though the 25-year-old's recent form and 15-goal haul this season – equal to Wayne Rooney's club tally if the Englishman's Community Shield strike is excluded – have raised questions over United's willingness to release the player, Neville insisted that he had to go.

"I can't disagree with his [Ferguson's] decision on Tevez," Neville said. "He was a good player for us, but if the financial demands are too big then that's just the way it goes. Other good players have left this club in the past, it's not the first time it's happened.

"The manager over the years has made many decisions with regard to players coming and going, and he has almost always been proved correct. Over a period of 20 years he may have got one or two wrong, and I think he has admitted that himself, but he knows exactly what he''s doing and he understands when a player's time is up."

Tevez picked up a calf strain in City's 2-0 defeat at Everton on Saturday, though he is still likely to start in tonight's derby, with personal motivations for adding to his Premier League hat-trick against Blackburn eight days ago. Tevez has expressed his indignation at the way United fans treated him in the 4-3 derby defeat at Old Trafford on 20 September, when a missile apparently aimed at him hit substitute Javier Garrido.

Tevez and Benjani Mwaruwari are expected to lead the City attack, with Roque Santa Cruz out for a month with a recurrence of a calf injury he first picked up three weeks ago. Patrick Vieira is not ready for his debut, with Mancini keen to see him fully recovered from a calf injury sustained in his last game for Internazionale before beginning what the manager anticipates as a long run in the side. "When Patrick comes back and plays I want him to play for 20 games," said Mancini, whose new signing may be available for the second leg next week.

Ferguson yesterday promised "a strongish team, but there will be some youngish players", as United seek to stem the sense that City – whose Abu Dhabi proprietor has converted his loans to shares at a time when the Glazer family are going cap in hand for subscribers to a £500m bond issue – are Manchester's coming team.

Neville said: "I don't see the game as an opportunity to reassert our dominance over City. We're quite comfortable with where we are. We are second in the league, we're in the Carling Cup semi-final and we're in the second phase of the Champions League, so we have nothing to prove.

"People might perceive that something is going on in Manchester between the two clubs, but we can't afford to get involved in that. We just need to concentrate on our jobs like we've always done. We've had battles with our rivals like Leeds and Liverpool over the years for the top honours, and we just concentrate on our own performance. There is no way we can start to concern ourselves with other teams too much."

Rio Ferdinand is "a lot closer" to a return, according to Ferguson but will not feature tonight after three months out with a back injury. United are still contemplating whether to send Dimitar Berbatov for knee surgery, though they said his obvious discomfort in the 3-0 win over Burnley had been caused by a dead leg.

Mancini, meanwhile, will have Stephen Ireland on the bench after three games out with a hamstring problem.

The Manchester United Supporters' Trust – one of the club's most prominent fan groups – has moved quickly to distance itself from reports claiming that supporters are considering asking Sir Alex Ferguson to quit as the club's manager in protest against the Glazer regime.