Manchester United's preparations for renewing combat in Europe were hit yesterday by news that they may be without Anderson for two months because of cartilage damage sustained by the Brazilian.
The 22-year-old returned to action in September after seven months out with cruciate ligament damage sustained at precisely the same stage of last season. He did not emerge for the second half of Saturday's FA Cup fifth-round tie with Crawley Town, having complained of discomfort in his knee, and left the Carrington training centre yesterday on crutches.
An operation is a possibility though Anderson, given a new five-year deal in December, will have the injury assessed further when the swelling has gone down. The absence of a player who showed some of his best United form last autumn will be keenly felt, with Antonio Valencia only just back in training after breaking an ankle, Park Ji-sung's hamstring trouble keeping him out for a month and Owen Hargreaves still showing no signs of recovery from two and a half years of injury.
United fly to Marseilles for the first leg of their last 16 tie this morning, with Gabriel Heinze likely to force anything from a wry smile to a grimace from Sir Alex Ferguson with the claim, ahead of a first encounter with him since leaving Old Trafford, that the Manchester United manager had "taught me things that made me grow as a man".
The defender's departure from United in 2007 was acrimonious, Ferguson refusing to sanction a move to Liverpool and Heinze accusing the manager of spouting "nonsense" when he said, in more recent times, that Real Madrid had only signed him in order to lure his friend Cristiano Ronaldo
The 32-year-old dismissed talk of the 1-0 group stage win over United at Stade Vélodrome sealed by William Gallas's goal 12 years ago as mere history, adding that the key to beating United was to "concentrate, stay back and not give them space".
But Heinze called Wayne Rooney "the best striker in football today" and described Nani as the other most potent element of Ferguson's forces. "[Nani] has so much talent. He replaced his compatriot Ronaldo and has started so strongly this year," the Argentine said. Heinze's departure opened the door for Patrice Evra, whose new three-year deal was confirmed yesterday.
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