United duo doubtful for the Anfield maelstrom

Evra has no qualms, Nani and Ferdinand could be out, but Jones may yet play in grudge FA Cup tie.

Manchester United face being without Rio Ferdinand and Nani for Saturday's highly charged FA Cup tie at Anfield, though Phil Jones has emerged as a contender to play despite an ankle injury sustained at Arsenal on Sunday.

Ferdinand suffered a back spasm in training last Thursday and, with his history of back trouble, the fourth-round tie may be beyond him. United are unlikely to take any risks on a player who two years ago sought prolotherapy as a cure of last resort for his back.

The injury to Nani which caused him to limp out of the 2-1 win at the Emirates is the most serious, though. Nani has told friends he may be out for two weeks, following a suspected metatarsal injury which led to him spending the train journey home from London on Sunday with his foot raised and a protective boot on. That prediction came ahead of scans on his foot and the prognosis may prove to be more serious.

Jones was walking despite his ankle problem yesterday. Chris Smalling suggested after the win in north London, which kept United within three points of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League, that Jones's injury might not be "too serious", suggesting that Jones seemed to think it was a "twist". Sir Alex Ferguson initially suggested Jones would be out for two weeks.

Wayne Rooney, who took a knock to a calf and ankle at Arsenal, has sustained no damage. But it remains to be seen whether the knock Patrice Evra sustained will keep him out of the match at Anfield, where he can expect a maelstrom following Luis Suarez's high-profile racism case. Evra said after the Emirates game that he "felt dizzy" but was "fine", which suggests he may have no qualms about his reception on Merseyside.

Ferguson said last week he hoped midfielder Tom Cleverley could begin training again this week, though Ashley Young is the one most likely to make it back for Anfield, following his recuperation from ankle trouble.

Liverpool and United met at an administrative level last week to prepare for Saturday's lunchtime tie, though there is unlikely to be any statement advising supporters to desist from inflammatory behaviour in the light of the Suarez case. A letter, signed by Ferguson, has been sent to all United fans who have been allocated tickets, urging them not to block gangways. That conduct resulted in a reduced allocation of tickets for United's game at Anfield in October – though the allocation is back to 6,000 for Saturday. The request is unrelated to the Suarez-Evra issue.

Smalling has said that City's title challenge will "crumble" if United maintain their pursuit. "We knew that [City] scored in the dying minutes [on Sunday] but we can't keep relying on them to drop points and we needed to make sure that we did our job today," Smalling said. "Soon enough, if we keep ticking these wins, then they'll crumble."

The United defender said the players were not thinking about the Suarez- Evra controversy. "They're playing midweek so we'll keep an eye on that one," he said. "Come Saturday, it'll be nice to do them on their own patch."

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