Ruud Van Nistelrooy could be back for Manchester United at Everton on Saturday if he comes through training without problems this week.
The Netherlands striker will make a well-timed return to United's Carrington training base today after almost three months on the sidelines with an Achilles injury. The United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has always maintained Van Nistelrooy's major target was the Champions' League game against Milan on 23 February and has indicated he would be happy to let the 28-year-old play against the Italians without the benefit of a warm-up game.
But if Van Nistelrooy proves his fitness during the week, a place on the bench for the FA Cup fifth-round tie at Goodison Park is a possibility as Ferguson looks to ease the pressure on Wayne Rooney.
"We need to assess how far on Ruud is," said Ferguson. "There is a chance he could be involved against Everton but we will just have to see how he comes through training."
Despite Van Nistelrooy's lengthy absence, he was only overtaken as United's top scorer on Sunday when Rooney scored his 13th goal of the campaign to put his side on the road to a Manchester derby victory.
Six days before his potentially heated return to Goodison Park, Rooney has insisted he does not have a problem with discipline. Rooney picked up his fourth domestic booking of the campaign during the match at Eastlands, leaving him one caution away from an automatic suspension.
Ferguson knows a repeat of such behaviour could be dangerous against Everton. Ferguson has already admitted his £27m teenager is facing "a big test" and has appealed for "calm" from the Everton support.
But Rooney insists he does not have any disciplinary concerns. "There is nothing wrong with my discipline," he said. "I have only received four yellow cards this season, last year it was 12, so it is clearly getting better."
Ferguson has not yet decided whether to name Rooney in his starting line-up as the holders look to reach the quarter-finals. But with Louis Saha likely to have recovered from a knee injury and both Van Nistelrooy and Alan Smith probably back in contention, Ferguson may opt to keep Rooney back for the tussle with Milan.
With Chelsea still nine points ahead of United and only 11 games of the Premiership season remaining, the odds remain heavily in favour of the Londoners landing their first title in 50 years, so no one at Old Trafford is in any doubt how important the next 10 days will be to their season.
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