Ferguson tips prodigy Rossi for top

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The New York-born Italian marked his senior debut as a substitute at Sunderland earlier this month with his first United goal and scored again on his full debut during the midweek Carling Cup victory against Barnet at Old Trafford.

While Ferguson concedes that his heavy artillery of Rooney and Van Nistelrooy will return in place of the former Parma prodigy at Middlesbrough this evening, he is convinced that Rossi has the potential to challenge his first-choice strikers.

Ferguson said: "We have good hopes for Rossi. He's a goalscorer and he has a fantastic temperament. Nothing fazes him. He has a good, cold mind in the box and he showed that with his goal against Barnet. It's difficult to compare his style to anybody, but he's a bloody goalscorer, there's no doubt about that. He's a clever player, with a quick, quick brain. When Paul Scholes was a kid, he was similar to Rossi, but they are different players.

"Giuseppe's problem at the moment is that he has two formidable players in front of him in Rooney and Van Nistelrooy, and Louis Saha will also be back soon. But I don't think that's going to be a long-term problem for the boy."

United travel to the Riverside this afternoon knowing a victory is vital before meeting Chelsea at Old Trafford a week tomorrow. Ferguson said: "Middlesbrough have been up and down, but they are a difficult team to play against. If we can win this game, the Chelsea game becomes bigger for us. Have they had a blip? Well, I don't think a 1-1 draw at Everton is a bad result."

Injured duo Roy Keane and Gary Neville will not be fit to face Chelsea, despite showing signs of improvement following foot and groin injuries respectively.

l Barnet goalkeeper Ross Flitney will not serve a suspension for his red card against United in Wednesday's Carling Cup tie, when he handled the ball outside the area in the second minute. The Football Association upheld his appeal for wrongful dismissal.