Van Nistelrooy battles to return for Milan tie

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The Independent Football

Ruud Van Nistelrooy will not be ready to return to action before the first leg of Manchester United's crucial Champions' League tie against Milan on 23 February.

The Dutch striker's Achilles injury, which began as a problem in his calf, has proved more complicated than first thought and he now faces a period out of football of between eight and 10 weeks as United try to get him fit for the Milan match.

As well as the Netherlands friendly against England on 9 February, Van Nistelrooy could miss up to nine Premiership matches, including the visit to Arsenal on 1 February.

Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, said yesterday: "I've got Alan Smith, David Bellion, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. I have got options so that doesn't distress me in any way, although we would rather Van Nistelrooy and Louis Saha were with us."

Manchester City have stopped short of sacking Joey Barton after he thrust a cigar into a team-mate's eye at the club's Christmas party, but the club chairman John Wardle admitted yesterday that he felt "badly let down" by the player. Barton, 22, has been fined six weeks' wages, with two weeks suspended for a year.

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