Ferdinand unsure of his place for Liverpool despite fine comeback

Rio Ferdinand is not thinking about the Manchester United captaincy at present – he is more concerned about getting his regular place back. After three-and-a-half months out with the ankle injury he suffered in a freak collision with Emile Heskey on the first full day of training at the World Cup, Ferdinand finally made his United comeback on Tuesday night.

His return for the Champions League draw with Rangers could not have come at a better time given Sir Alex Ferguson's announcement 24 hours earlier that Gary Neville would no longer wear the captain's armband.

Nemanja Vidic's omission at Old Trafford offered Ferguson the perfect chance to let Ferdinand resume his previously held status as Neville's stand-in.

It puts Ferdinand in pole position to lead the team in Sunday's visit of Liverpool. The only problem is he is not sure of his place. "The manager has a decision to make with the players," said Ferdinand. "There were 10 changes for Rangers and it could be the same again on Sunday. Hopefully I will be picked and part of the team. I have got to get picked first."

Ferdinand's presence was a comfort to new boy Chris Smalling, who was starting his first competitive game for United. A £7m summer arrival from Fulham, Smalling is content to adopt a patient approach, knowing there are so many games looming, opportunities are bound to come.

"When I came here I knew I would be competing with four or five world-class central defenders," Smalling said. "Including pre-season, I have managed to play with all of them now. Hopefully I can link up with them all and build partnerships. This is going to be a busy period for us and I want to put my name in the frame."

Smalling is certainly loving life at the moment. Quite apart from his advancements at United, the former Maidstone defender has secured a place in Stuart Pearce's England Under-21 squad who will try to clinch a place at the European Championships by beating Romania next month.

"In terms of my confidence, it is quite high now," Smalling said. "I have been going away with the Under-21s and that has helped. We have a lot of games at the minute at international level so those plus any I can get with the club will be good.

"It is the only way I can improve. I work hard in training but it is games when the real pressure comes on. That is the thing that tests you."

Ahead of Sunday's encounter at Old Trafford the Liverpool defender Daniel Agger has said that he believes the club's training ground is a happy place again under new manager Roy Hodgson. Rafael Benitez's reign came to a disappointing end last term as the Reds could finish only seventh, their worst Premier League placing for more than a decade, and the club and Benitez soon parted.

At the time there were suggestions the Spaniard had managed to alienate a number of his players – having had public fall-outs with Ryan Babel and Albert Riera – but Agger yesterday said they were all together again under the Englishman's stewardship.

"It is a new team, new players, young players, new staff and I think the mentality you can see on people's faces – they are a lot more happy in training sessions," said the Denmark international.

"When you get a new training session, new staff around you, new methods, it gives you more energy somehow. Obviously the sessions have to be good in the right way but I think it is really important for a team to be happy to play football.

"For me it is really important I am happy when I play football because I think I can perform better then and I think it is the same for everyone."

When asked if he felt the squad had grown stale under Benitez, the 25-year-old added: "I think we have to look at the future, not the past, so I don't think it's relevant. In every training session we focus on the future, we don't look at the past."