Surgery for Berbatov leaves door ajar for Owen

Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov is facing exploratory surgery on a knee problem, which risks adding to the injury troubles which have bedevilled the side's season.

Sir Alex Ferguson admitted, after Berbatov had not even made the bench at St Andrew's for Saturday's draw with Birmingham, that surgery will be needed to assess a problem of fluid on the knee, which kept him out of the side throughout November. "He's been carrying this knee injury a little bit and we're trying to get him right," Ferguson said. "He played with it last week. He wanted to play with it [here.] We spoke about maybe a little exploratory operation to see what the issue is. We felt we should just try and get it sorted and get him fit again."

United have been desperate to avoid that outcome and Ferguson said only last month that United felt they had managed to nurse the player through it and he has played a part in every Premier League game since the start of December. Berbatov, who exacerbated the problem with a kick to the knee against Blackburn on 31 October, travelled with the United squad to St Andrew's and it seems likely he will undergo any exploratory surgery this week, which would mean him missing next weekend's home match with Burnley, and possibly another month.

Berbatov has had a dismal season, his six goals contributing to the sense that he might never deliver what Ferguson expected when he laid out £30.5m for him in August 2008, and has been criticised for dishing off to less established players despite his own struggles to make any impact.

United's lack of cutting edge has been exacerbated by the manager's disinclination to give Michael Owen a regular run of starts, with Federico Macheda and Danny Welbeck also still marginal. Owen may see Berbatov's injury as his last chance of forcing his way into World Cup contention

Ferguson had clearly told Alex McLeish that he expected Berbatov to be absent for a time, during their post-match drink. "I'm sure that Berbatov will come back with all guns blazing," McLeish said. "Alex Ferguson will manage him in the right way and get the best out of him because I know he's good at that."

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