Ferguson expects more up front but lacks in defence

Van Persie set to start on bench for debut as Ferdinand injury leaves United thin at the back

Friday's capture of Robin van Persie caught the imagination, but Sir Alex Ferguson has a huge defensive headache ahead of Manchester United's opening game of the season at Everton tonight. Rio Ferdinand has picked up a groin injury in training ahead of the trip to Goodison Park and could miss up to a month as he awaits news from a scan.

Add Ferdinand, to the other absentees – Phil Jones and Chris Smalling – and it leaves United with Nemanja Vidic as their only fully fit central defender. Jonny Evans is back in training but Ferguson admitted that the curtain-raiser comes too soon for the Northern Irishman. That could mean that Michael Carrick is asked to partner Vidic in the heart of defence.

It isn't the ideal start to a season in which Ferguson has placed so much emphasis on the other end of the pitch, having lost the title race on goal difference last year. "No matter the years of experience we have of going for titles, last year was a different type of year. It's the first time anyone has beaten us on goal difference," Ferguson said. "That's what cost us the league and it won't happen again. Trust me on that." Van Persie is in the squad, but is likely to start on the bench, given his lack of match sharpness after an interrupted pre-season.

United have seemingly ended interest in Leighton Baines after Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem revealed last night that they had sold 23-year-old left-back Alexander Buttner to Old Trafford, while the money received by Everton from the sale of Jack Rodwell to Manchester City means they are able to add quality themselves. That comes in the shape of Olympiakos' Kevin Mirallas, who yesterday signed for £6m on a four-year deal. "I know this is a great club with great supporters and a club that has the ability win a lot of games in the Premier League. That's why I came," the winger said. "After talking with the manager I decided coming to Everton was the best opportunity for me." It represents a decent summer of business for Moyes, who managed to get good money for Rodwell – a midfielder besieged by injury – and kept hold of his better players.

For United, defensive issues aside, there are plenty of options available in midfield and attack. Ferguson spoke of the "progression" that Danny Welbeck continues to make, and how he can improve alongside Van Persie and Wayne Rooney. There is an urgency about their need to find the net regularly from the word go. Ryan Giggs is pleased with the new signing. "The players are just like the fans in terms of talking about who we might sign and wondering which players might come in," he said. "[Van Persie] brought that lift to training that a top player brings and that all bodes well."

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