Ferguson refuses to risk Scholes until eye problem is solved

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The Independent Football

Paul Scholes will again be absent when Manchester United receive Liverpool tomorrow in the match that remains the highlight of Sir Alex Ferguson's season. The Old Trafford manager has admitted that the midfielder's eye problem has defied diagnosis by a top specialist.

Scholes, 31, has suffered blurred vision since sustaining what the United manager described as "a bang on the head that he can't remember doing" during the 2-2 draw at Birmingham on 28 December. Ferguson, having previously dismissed reports that the former England player had been partially blinded by a cyst, said yesterday the club was no closer to solving the mystery.

"We sent Paul to the best man in Manchester, who is world renowned," Ferguson said. "But we still haven't got clarification. There's no absolute medical opinion about what's wrong, so we're guessing. The specialist suggested we get a second opinion. We'll send him somewhere else and see if they can diagnose something we can treat."

Ferguson speculated that Scholes, who had just hit a vein of scoring form, would probably be prepared to play, but added: "You can't take a chance on that, even though he's not in great pain or anything."

United's midfield options were already diminished by injury to Park Ji-Sung and the suspension of Cristiano Ronaldo, although Alan Smith will test his ankle today in the hope of facing Liverpool. In contrast, Ferguson argued that a "clean bill of health" has contributed to the European champions' improved domestic form this season.

This is still the game, despite Chelsea's ascendancy and United's rivalry with Arsenal, that Ferguson relishes most. "It reflects my very reason for being here," he said. "I knew what I had to do when I came. The challenge was Liverpool - and we did it. The fans, players and even Liverpool might see it differently, but this game has special significance for me.

"We're the two most successful clubs in Britain, so there's always been competition between us. They're just along the road. If one is doing well, the other is on the doorstep having to suffer. But the games are played in a fantastic spirit, whereas when I first came and people like Norman Whiteside and Steve McMahon played, they were quite meaty."

Ferguson is not as close to Rafael Benitez as he was to Gérard Houllier, but he travelled to a coaches' conference with the Liverpool manager and respects him.

Benitez yesterday marvelled at the Scot's staying power, saying: "In Spain it's not natural to be at one club 20 years. I had three at Valencia but it can be a year or a week depending on the chairman."

Benitez, who once spent a week studying United's training methods while out of work, added: "We feel the rivalry between the clubs. For me, it's important to see whether my team are capable of winning matches like this; to see if we are strong. We're going to Old Trafford to try to win. The difference between us isn't big - and I think we're better than when we drew with them in September."