Darren Fletcher has revealed he needs an ankle operation, although he is prepared to delay surgery until the summer. There was a time, not so very long ago, when the prospect of losing the midfielder would have been a minor irritant for Manchester United. That was, however, before Fletcher blossomed into one of the Premier League's finest and certainly most under-rated midfielders.
Tuesday night's breathless 3-3 draw with CSKA Moscow was the 25-year-old's first match for exactly a month. He had injured his ankle in another high-scoring last-gasp draw at Old Trafford – against Sunderland.
"A bit of bone has broken off the back of my ankle and stuck out about an inch," he said. "It got to the point when it was too sore to train and play so I had an injection to clear it up for a while but eventually it is going to need to be cleaned out. I will have to get something done but the injection will see me through a few months. The plan is to get me through to the summer and do something then."
His manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, would want Fletcher to face Chelsea's formidable midfield at Stamford Bridge on Sunday – and not just because the boy from Dalkeith is mightily effective in big games. He scores on average once every 10 matches for United but the champions have never lost when he has found the net.
Despite the relief that echoed through Old Trafford when Antonio Valencia's horribly-deflected strike earned United a draw against CSKA that seemed wildly unlikely with six minutes remaining, they will travel to a venue where they have not won in their last eight attempts with too many questions for comfort.
In only two of their last eight games – one of which was at Barnsley – have United kept a clean sheet and this is a Chelsea performing with abandon in front of goal. While Ferguson will always regard encounters with Liverpool as his ultimate domestic challenge, players such as Patrice Evra, who came to Old Trafford when Jose Mourinho's personality dominated the English game, say they look to Chelsea as their greatest rivals.
"If you ask me the one game I want to win above all others it is Chelsea," said Evra, whose post-match altercation with the Stamford Bridge groundsman, Sam Bethell, cost him a four-game ban 12 months ago. "But when I play against Chelsea, something bad always happens.
"I just want to have a good memory because I do always enjoy playing against Chelsea. I think I have never lost to them when I have started."
This is true, if you ignore the penalty shoot-out that finished the Community Shield in August, although Ferguson's statement that the booking outrageously awarded by the Portuguese referee, Olegario Benquerenca, for diving may cause Fletcher to be suspended in the knockout stages is incorrect. Only red cards are carried over from the group games.Reuse content