Sir Alex Ferguson has warned Anderson and Michael Carrick that they can ill afford to rest on their laurels, with the midfield players’ places in the team under increasing threat.
As Ferguson urged his players to improve on last season’s “poor” record against their closest rivals before the visit of Arsenal to Old Trafford this evening, the United manager attempted to shoot down suggestions of bust-ups with Anderson and Carrick in recent weeks, even though he clearly has much to ponder regarding his midfield.
With the perennially injured Owen Hargreaves still months away from returning to action, Ferguson needs Carrick and Anderson, in particular, to raise their games as United chase a record fourth consecutive title in the Barclays Premier League, but the negligible involvement of both so far this season has set tongues wagging.
Ferguson tried to dismiss as “absolute rubbish” reports that he had had a row with Anderson after he was told that he would not start in the Community Shield match against Chelsea on August 9. The Brazil midfield player had apparently shown a casual attitude in training and it is understood that an angry disagreement took place.
Anderson has been given only 59 minutes of playing time so far, when he was unhappily marooned on the left side of midfield during the 1-0 defeat by Burnley last week before making way for Antonio Valencia, but it is Carrick’s omission from the 18-man squad for two of United’s opening three league matches that has been most puzzling.
That is underlined when you consider that the England midfield player was included in United’s squad for every league match when fit last season but for the finale away to Hull City, when Ferguson rested most of his first-team regulars, with one eye on the Champions League final and the title already sewn up.
When quizzed about Carrick’s absence for the season-opener against Birmingham City at Old Trafford less than a fortnight ago, Ferguson was reported to have told the television cameras, “There’s no injury to Michael Carrick, you’ll have to ask him why he’s out,” sparking rumours that the pair had had a falling-out.
Having missed a penalty during the subsequent defeat by Burnley, Carrick, was also left out of the squad for the 5-0 thrashing of Wigan Athletic, but Ferguson claimed that he does not have a problem with the player — or Anderson — despite making it clear that he envisages Darron Gibson, the Ireland midfield player, making a greater challenge for a regular starting berth.
“There are no issues with Carrick and Anderson,” Ferguson said. “What you’ll find is they’re not playing and when they’re not playing, you make it an issue, not me. I read about a dust-up with Anderson, which is absolute rubbish.
“We played Burnley on the Wednesday and had played the Saturday before it, and it was a chance to freshen up — that’s what we did.
“We’d got back [Darren] Fletcher and [Paul] Scholes [for the Wigan game], who were fresh and hadn’t played against Burnley, so it was just a matter of freshening it up. What we are also trying to do is push on Gibson as much as we can because the boy has improved at a fantastic rate of knots. We’ve been really impressed with him. That’s the reason [Anderson and Carrick were left out]. There’s no reason other than that.”
Anderson and Carrick are likely to come into contention for a starting place against Arsenal, with Ferguson hoping that victory will prove the catalyst for an improved record against their fellow “big four” teams. Despite winning the title, United took only five points from a possible 18 against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool last season.
“Over the years we have usually done quite well in that respect, but we didn’t do well last year, so hopefully we can do better this year,” he said.