Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, has acknowledged that Robin van Persie's presence will put Wayne Rooney under pressure as he prepares to have the two strikers at his disposal once more.
Rooney returned impressively in the League Cup in midweek, after a month's absence, but Ferguson said before the visit of Tottenham Hotspur to Old Trafford this evening that "competition is always healthy" and that he wants his players "desperate" for a place.
He did not reject the notion that the lack of pressure has been to Rooney's detriment. "They being the kind of young lads they are desperate to establish themselves in our first team," said Ferguson, for whom Danny Welbeck was also incisive against Newcastle United on Wednesday. "That is what competition is. We had it in 1999. It did a lot of good for [ strikers Andy] Cole and [Dwight] Yorke because they knew [Teddy] Sheringham and [Ole Gunnar] Solskjaer wanted to play and they did get a lot of football."
The United manager is yet again shorn of defenders through injury and surprisingly admitted that he had pitched Nemanja Vidic back into action despite seeing that he was struggling in training to fully recover from last season's cruciate ligament damage. Vidic required further surgery on that knee and will be missing for eight weeks. "I don't think he was ever 100 per cent," Ferguson said. "I noticed it a couple of times in training that he was limping a little bit and then he started feeling tightness in his knee. Obviously the main operation was to correct the cruciate but when you do cruciates there is always the danger that the cartilage or meniscus is also damaged. That was the case." Asked should he have exercised more caution, the manager said: "He wanted to carry on and in that situation that is what tough guys can do."
Though Rio Ferdinand's obvious impairment towards the end of last Sunday's 2-1 win at Liverpool was just a dead leg and "no problem" according to the manager, Wednesday night's 21-year-old debutante Scott Wootton will be in today's squad. Antonio Valencia is a doubt after his tangle with Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson left him with an ankle injury, Ferguson claimed.
Today's central-defensive partnership should be Ferdinand and Jonny Evans, though the prospects of the 33-year-old returning to the England set-up for the next World Cup qualifier against San Marino on 12 October are remote, Ferguson said, in what felt like a veiled message to England manager Roy Hodgson not to recall him. "If it happens then it is entirely up to Rio. I would not think he would get called up. I think Roy made his decision in the European Championships and I can't see him changing that. It will be a difficult one for him to go to Rio now and welcome him back. But you never know."
Today's match reawakens one of Tottenham's most unpalatable statistics – that their last win at Old Trafford was in December 1989, with 22 defeats from 26 matches and nine in a row.
Ferguson questioned the 11 months it had taken the Football Association to convict John Terry of using offensive racist language. "It has been so long in respect of the actual incident," he said. "It has taken a long time for the FA to get there. There is a danger of it resurrecting itself in a way that it has been so long. But the fact he has got a four-match ban, which he may find quite lenient considering [Luis] Suarez got eight matches. But I think we move on and so does the game."