Ferguson the gambler still backing rotation

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The Independent Football

The grandee's approach to the latter stages of the Carling Cup has embellished the competition's reputation in recent years, but even in this season of diminished ambition for Manchester United, and only three days after the embarrassment of Burton Albion, Sir Alex Ferguson will approach the penultimate round with the same gambling instinct he usually reserves for the racecourse.

Despite a second successive goalless draw with a Conference club in the third round of the FA Cup, the United manager will adopt a similar selection policy for tonight's semi-final first leg at the in-form Blackburn Rovers as he took to the Pirelli Stadium, and leave his strongest side in storage for this weekend's Manchester derby.

Ferguson will field a more experienced side at Ewood Park than he did on Sunday, with the new signing Patrice Evra available to make his debut following the completion of his £4.5m move from Monaco. But with United out of Europe and 13 points adrift of Chelsea in the title race, it is debatable whether he needs to take any risk at all, especially against a Blackburn side that have won six of its last seven matches and have already triumphed at Old Trafford this season.

"They are on a good run and it is going to be a tough semi-final," conceded Ferguson. "They will play their strongest side, but we won't. We've got a derby with City at 12.45 on Saturday so we'll be making changes and using the squad again. I will play a side similar to the one that got us through against Birmingham, which will mean some of the first-team squad will be involved. It is a two-legged tie so we can adapt and see how things stand for the second leg."

United's midweek fixture list has been cleared by their elimination from both the Champions' League and Uefa Cup and while their manager concedes the Carling Cup has assumed more importance of late, he credits the structuring of the competition rather than his own European travails with that development. Ferguson added: "It is a big incentive for the bigger clubs now because they come into the competition later. We started with a very young team against Barnet, then we brought in more experienced players against West Brom because we could not afford to lose that night on account of the occasion [the first game at Old Trafford since the death of George Best] and then we fielded a team strong enough to get us through at Birmingham. It will be the same against Blackburn."

Mark Hughes rested players for the FA Cup victory over QPR with tonight's encounter in mind, including Morten Gamst Pedersen, whose two goals at Old Trafford in September prompted United supporters to turn on Ferguson. The Norwegian said: "We did well against United last time and we know we can do well again. We are playing one of the best teams in Europe. It's going to be tough but we are on a roll."

Blackburn (probable, 4-4-2) : Friedel; Neill, Todd, Nelsen, Matteo; Reid, Savage, Tugay, Pedersen; Dickov, Bellamy.

Manchester United (probable, 4-4-2) : Howard; Neville, Brown, Silvestre, Evra; Ronaldo, O'Shea, Fletcher, Richardson; Saha, Rossi.

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