Ferguson expects Goodison 'nightmare'

Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted Manchester United's trips to Everton are always "a nightmare" even without taking into account the Wayne Rooney factor.

After six days of his best player being plastered over the front pages because of those damning allegations in his private life, it took Ferguson just 16 words to inform the world he would not be responsible for any further comment.

Words might have been exchanged behind closed doors but a feature of Ferguson's illustrious managerial career, which reaches its 700th Premier League game tomorrow, is an ability to protect his players from further suffering, whether self-inflicted or not.

The attitude has so often been rewarded in the past and, when his team run out at Goodison Park tomorrow, Ferguson will hope Rooney responds in the appropriate manner.

"Let's put it to bed straightaway," said the United boss. "I am not discussing any of my players' personal lives.

"It is always a nightmare going there and it wouldn't matter whether it was Dixie Dean playing for us. It is a hard place to go to.

"The atmosphere is fantastic. But we have had to deal with it for many years and there is no problem with our record there."

Indeed, while, by his own admission, United were slaughtered in the corresponding fixture last year, Ferguson's team have lost just three times at Goodison in the entire Premier League era.

Their chances of success this time around have been increased by both Everton's poor form and the return of Ferguson's huge international contingent, including Rooney, 24 hours earlier than usual.

For that, United have the new international fixture calendar to thank, which, in the case of Tuesday matches, Ferguson is hugely appreciative.

"It is the best decision FIFA have made in my time here," he said.

"I don't know why it has not been done before.

"It gives club managers a great boost and is not a problem for the international managers because they still have 10 days with their players."

Nevertheless, Antonio Valencia and Javier Hernandez still did not return from their respective commitments to Ecuador and Mexico until yesterday evening.

Given the swift turnaround for a Saturday lunchtime fixture, both men could find themselves overlooked tomorrow, which just gives more credence to the belief Ferguson will select Rooney to play against his old club, on a ground which, for him, is now full of ill-feeling despite his boyhood devotion.

If he does play, Rooney is expected to be accompanied by Rio Ferdinand.

There was a stage when Ferguson did not expect to have the England skipper back until the end of the month.

However, Ferdinand's recovery from the knee injury he suffered in that freak World Cup training ground collision with Emile Heskey has been so swift and so successful, Ferguson opted not to let him play a reserve team game against Stockport last night.

"Rio wanted to play but his training performances are so good I didn't see any point.

"He is in the squad with three games this week, it is good that he is back."

Ferguson will doubtless have a plan in mind for a run of mouth-watering fixtures that moves on to Tuesday's Champions League Battle of Britain with Rangers and then next Sunday's visit of old rivals Liverpool to Old Trafford.

For Ferguson that will mean a handshake with yet another Reds boss following the installation of Roy Hodgson as Rafael Benitez's replacement.

Never close to Benitez, Ferguson has more of a rapport with Hodgson, just as he did with Gerard Houllier, whose return to the Premier League with Aston Villa has caught him slightly off guard.

"It is a surprise," said Ferguson.

"He has been out of the English game for quite a while and he had a nice position with the French FA.

"But I look forward to seeing him."

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