United prepared to rest Van Nistelrooy

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson is willing to leave Ruud van Nistelrooy out of Manchester United's Premiership title push for the next two months to ensure he is ready for the club's assault on the Champions' League.

Sir Alex Ferguson is willing to leave Ruud van Nistelrooy out of Manchester United's Premiership title push for the next two months to ensure he is ready for the club's assault on the Champions' League.

Van Nistelrooy has been sent for a scan on the calf problem which first surfaced six weeks ago. It has kept the £18.5m Dutch international striker out for the last five games, after being substituted in the previous three. Despite the rest, Ferguson is no nearer learning the extent of the injury and is fearful of causing further damage which may affect Van Nistelrooy's Achilles.

Although United's Premiership ambitions took another knock, with Monday's 1-1 draw at Fulham, Ferguson is looking towards the Champions' League tie against Milan, in February and March, as the time he primarily wants Van Nistelrooy available.

"Ruud's injury has not cleared up," Ferguson said yesterday. "There is a bit of concern because he is the best striker in the business and we want him back, particularly with the European campaign coming. Hopefully, we will have a better idea once he has seen the specialist because at the moment we just don't know and that is concerning."

He added: "We thought he was nearly there at the beginning of the week but the problem has resurfaced again. He has been patient and so have we, but we have reached the stage now where we have to get to the root of the problem."

With Van Nistelrooy in the side this season, United have won seven of their nine Premiership matches. Without him their record is two wins from eight. The Dutchman's contribution in Europe is even more startling. With 36 goals in 37 European appearances, he has long since eclipsed Denis Law's club record and the 28-year-old stands behind only Real Madrid's Raul in the Champions' League goal standings.

With Van Nistelrooy out and Louis Saha also likely to miss the Christmas programme with a knee injury, United are left with only two experienced strikers in Wayne Rooney and Alan Smith. But Ferguson said he is more than happy to let Smith spearhead the United attack against Crystal Palace this evening.

"Alan has been a real hero for us," he said. "Only the old fashioned type of forward gets [his] kind of goals. Forwards like Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo can manufacture goals by beating men - but there are very few who can create one with a tackle like that.

"I can't speak more highly of him, for what he has done and he won't be fazed by having to lead the line."

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