Redkapp right to 'protect' Spurs say Ferguson

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson insists Harry Redknapp's threat to play his weakest possible team at Old Trafford tomorrow does not reflect badly on the FA Cup.

Critics feel the world's oldest domestic cup competition has lost its lustre despite a couple of thrilling seasons, including last term when three Championship sides reached the semi-final of a competition eventually won by Redknapp's Portsmouth.

Redknapp has since moved on to Tottenham, who visit United just three days after needing extra-time to book a Carling Cup date with the Red Devils on 1 March and with a tricky Premier League encounter with fellow strugglers Stoke looming on Tuesday.

Under the circumstances, Redknapp feels it would be folly to risk key men at Old Trafford, particularly as he is contending with a growing injury list which has already claimed Ledley King, Jermaine Jenas and Jamie O'Hara.

It is a concern Ferguson understands completely, but the Scot insists the FA Cup is still a trophy of significance.

"It is not a reflection on the FA Cup at all," Ferguson said.

"Harry was speaking in the emotion of a game of what I am sure is a concern.

"He has some genuine injuries and is concerned about Tuesday night against Stoke. At the moment they are down there along with three or four others on 21 points.

"He has been picking up one or two injuries and their next few league games are quite tough ones. They have three six-pointers and are coming out of a match played on a really soft pitch in atrocious conditions.

"In that situation you have to protect your club."

Ferguson feels the same way, although for him it is not a case of fielding a weakened team by choice.

United already know they will be without 10 regular members of their first-team squad, with that number rising to a dozen should Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs fail to shrug off minor knocks.

As they have an important Premier League game at West Brom on Tuesday too, it is little wonder the Red Devils are concerned about a repeat of two years ago, when their treble bid was wrecked by a glut of injuries, and talk of a winter break is on the agenda again.

"We are not in the best position because there are a lot of games in January and we have a lot of injuries," Ferguson added.

"At this time of year players often carry little strains, which eventually become injuries that force them to miss games.

"That is why managers for years have pursued the hope they will have a winter break. Unfortunately, it is not to be."

Ferguson has added young trio James Chester - who made his debut against Derby on Tuesday - Richard Eckersley and Brazilian Fabio, whose twin brother Rafael is one of those missing - to his squad, with Darren Fletcher set for the right-back slot.

The United boss has already ruled out the possibility of bringing in reinforcements, even on loan, as he is confident Wes Brown and Rio Ferdinand will be fit to face Everton in a game scheduled for February 2 but which could take place two days earlier if either team is involved in an FA Cup replay.

Indeed, as Anderson and Jonny Evans should be fit from respective ankle complaints in three weeks, only long-term casualty Owen Hargreaves might be missing when United resume the defence of their Champions League trophy against Inter Milan on February 24.

"This is the best squad I have had in terms of quality in 22 years, there is no doubt about that," Ferguson added.

"It is having that number of players which gives me a chance to get through all these games."