Sir Alex Ferguson has insisted that he will retain goalkeeper David de Gea for tonight's match at Newcastle United, despite the 21-year-old's indecision against Blackburn Rovers which allowed Steve Kean's side – the youngest ever starting line-up in the Premier League – to claim their extraordinary 3-2 victory at Old Trafford on New Year's Eve.
Ferguson hopes to have Rio Ferdinand restored to the heart of central defence this evening, providing De Gea with the leadership in his own area which he has been unable to supply during a less than convincing first five months at Old Trafford. But the United manager's resolve to stick with the Spaniard rather than Anders Lindegaard in the teeth of what he perceives as a campaign of negativity towards the £18.9m summer acquisition, is approaching unsustainability, as Lindegaard continues to impress.
Public praise for the £3.5m Dane has been in short supply from Ferguson, who believes it will be characterised as a slight on the Spaniard, but last Friday he acknowledged the professionalism of the 27-year-old in accepting De Gea's repeated selection ahead of him. "Both keepers are very professional, particularly in the case of Anders dealing with a younger keeper in De Gea. He's been terrific, the boy. He trains very well, so it's easy to manage that," Ferguson said.
Lindegaard, who has conceded only once in seven appearances for United against De Gea's 23 conceded in 18, has confidence, dominance and his vastly superior English seems to be a significant factor in penalty-box communication. "Calmfidence - 6!" he said after the 5-0 win over Wigan Athletic on Boxing Day – in reference to his clean sheet record. Lindegaard is fond of saying that he is not at United "to pick his nose" and that impeccable English has also allowed him to articulate his desire for goalkeeping supremacy without making the pressure personal to De Gea – whose most glaring errors have come against Manchester City (twice), Arsenal, West Bromwich Albion and Benfica.
Ferguson, who will restore Wayne Rooney and hopes to have Ryan Giggs back tonight, has dismissed the Rovers defeat as a "freak result" and suggested that his side's midfield did not have enough experience to cope, with 15 players out. "We just didn't have enough experience in that [midfield] area of the pitch. Blackburn put three players in there and made it difficult for us," he told radio station Sirius XM. "It was a freak result in a way but full credit to Blackburn. They fought like tigers; they really did."
The defeat reflected Ferguson's belief that the sides fighting for survival know that they will get no more than one and a half points per game between now and the end of the season – and therefore dare not lose touch with their rivals. "I think we are coming into the part of the season – the turn of the year – when you don't want to be left adrift, because from the turn of the year to end of the season the most points you will get per game is around about one and a quarter to one and a half.
"Statistically, that's always been the case," the manager said. "I think you are getting a lot of teams, now, really digging in, making sure they are surviving because no-one wants to drop out of the premier division."
Ferguson reiterated his belief that Tottenham Hotspur, whose current form surpasses all other sides in the Premier League to his mind, are title contenders – though he believes they have a shallower depth in their squad, which could prove decisive. "If they get any injuries it would impact on them as I don't know how strong their squad is," he said.
He did not disguise his delight at the way an injury-hit Sunderland managed to prevent Manchester City extending their lead at the top on New Year's Day, though Ferdinand has been more outspoken about his belief that United have qualities which City lack.
"[There are] loads of things [that United have and City don't]" the defender said. "I don't like to say we've got this and you haven't. It's all about doing it. It's not about remembering the past, it's about trying to create more history and be a part of the history of this club."
How rivals compare
21 Age 27
Spain (0) Nationality (caps) Denmark (5)
£18m Fee £3.5m
19 Man United appearances 7
25 Goals conceded 1
5 Clean sheets 6Reuse content