Wenger rues cost of international week

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As the Premiership resumes this afternoon with a handful of mouth-watering fixtures, the pressures of international football have again left a bittersweet aftertaste for the country's leading club managers.

Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, was left ruing a growing injury list after the last round of internationals. Manchester United's Alex Ferguson was pondering whether to rest key players after their exertions in midweek and with the Champions' League beckoning.

The Liverpool manager, Gérard Houllier, had happier problems – how does he keep hold of his in-form England players? Meanwhile, the Middlesbrough manager, Steve McLaren, drew criticism for his continuing role with England while his side remain pointless.

"I know things will improve next season with new regulations but fixture congestion remains a major problem," said Wenger, who had a sizeable contingent of French players involved in a tiring friendly in Chile as well as several others away with their countries. Sylvain Wiltord returned with a bug and is doubtful today, while the Ukrainian defender Oleg Luzhny returned injured from his country's 3-0 win over Armenia.

"When I was in Geneva last week for the G-14 meeting all the coaches and managers had the same complaints about fixture congestion and the problem of club and country," Wenger added. He said perhaps the only solution would be to abandon FA Cup replays in favour of on-the-day conclusions such as penalties.

Manchester United's Alex Ferguson, whose champions play hosts to Everton, was left contemplating whether to rest David Beckham and Ruud Van Nistelrooy today following their displays for England and the Netherlands respectively, and ahead of the start of their Champions' League campaign against Olympiakos on Wednesday. He was also left worrying over the fitness of Paul Scholes, whose efforts for the England coach Sven Goran Eriksson came at the cost of a knee injury.

At least Ferguson has options, with Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke both eager for starts. Yorke can only have enhanced his claims by silencing his doubters with a hat-trick for the reserves on Thursday evening. Two Frenchmen not involved in their country's trip to Chile, the goalkeeper Fabian Barthez and the new signing from Internazionale, Laurent Blanc, should also feel rested. Whether the latter, at 35, will be quite ready for the hurly burly that a contest against Everton's in-form Duncan Ferguson might entail remains to be seen.

One player likely to be chomping at the bit to get back on the pitch, after a break lasting all of two days, is Liverpool's Michael Owen. Inspired for club and country in recent months, Aston Villa are unlikely to be looking forward to facing him. Or for that matter, any of Liverpool's other England players.

"I am very proud of them, it shows just how much they are improving," Houllier said yesterday, of Owen, Emile Heskey, Robbie Fowler, Steven Gerrard (all England goalscorers this week), Nick Barmby and Jamie Carragher. "I was proud. It's a bit like a film producer who sees his actors get awards. The fact that they are doing so well means they are well-trained and that they are developing."

One man whose England fortunes have not been mirrored at club level recently is McLaren, who has yet to see his Middlesbrough side score a goal, let alone take a point, during his managerial tenure. He insisted yesterday however, that his dual responsibilities were causing "no problem at all".

"As far as I am concerned the club are firmly behind me," he said. "The club have no problems with my England role and I have no problems with it either."

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