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Monday 18 December 2017

John Giles: Fergie's worst fears are coming to pass

LURKING in the back of Alex Ferguson's mind right now is the one thought he must have hoped he would never have to confront. Why did he let Carlos Tevez go?

Last night in Munich, many sour thoughts flooded into his head while he watched Olic snatch a winner with one eye, and Wayne Rooney prone on the half-way line with the other.

No doubt he allowed himself a moment to consider the irony of the circumstances and how football can bestow great gifts in the last few moments of a game but can also be brutal and cruel.

If he did, it would have been brief because he has plenty to occupy his mind now. With Rooney's fitness a serious cause for concern at best, Ferguson has been left with the nightmare scenario of entering the crucial phase of the season with only Dimitar Berbatov to supply goals.

He still has an away goal to work with in the return leg but if Rooney is out for any length of time, all his plans will be thrown into disarray.

Subdue

To add insult to injury, he must find a way to subdue his biggest rival for the Premier League title at Old Trafford this weekend and he knows that Chelsea and Ancelotti have never been more dangerous.

His decision to snub Tevez now looks worse than ever. Bad enough that the little Argentinean has been piling up the goals for Manchester City but worse still now that Ferguson is down to his last striker.

In just six seconds in Munich last night, football proved yet again that almost anything can happen during 90 minutes, but Manchester United's defeat at the death by Bayern also underlined a fundamental of the game. Give away the ball often enough to good players and you'll pay the price eventually.

Ferguson's decision to protect Rooney's early goal fell into line with his idea that Champions League football is somehow different to the Premier League. Instead of chasing another goal and punishing what looked to me like a very shaky home defence, Manchester United handed the ball to Bayern and Ferguson trusted Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic to hold the line.

They almost did and Ferguson was 30 seconds away from a good score draw and an excellent position for the home leg when disaster struck on the double. Olic scored and Rooney collapsed in a heap.

The result is almost incidental to the damage a major injury problem for Rooney would represent to Ferguson and Manchester United's chances for the rest of the season.

I'm sure it will take a few days before we will know how bad Rooney's ankle twist is and whether there is serious ligament damage or, even worse, a broken bone.

When he went down, it looked bad and there was clearly enough pain in the injury to make even a tough nut like Rooney clutch his ankle in agony.

At best, he has strained or sprained his ankle and that's a three-week lay-off, but I have a feeling that Ferguson and indeed Fabio Capello would be relieved with that prognosis if it turns out to be accurate.

The ankle is often an awkward area to treat and we know that Rooney already had some bruising. The bandaging he was wearing on the ankle in question could be seen clearly from the video images of the incident.

Everyone flagged that Ferguson would have a big problem if Rooney shipped an injury even while Michael Owen was fit.

But he was playing so well and looking so strong that it seemed as if he had fate on his side and in years to come this season would mark the beginning of Rooney's reign as the best player in the world.

It was easy to forget what might happen if he was unlucky and now Ferguson must be seething with regret and frustration over Tevez.

Pressure

Imagine how far Manchester United would be ahead of everyone else if Ferguson had combined the goal-scoring ability of Rooney and Tevez.

There's no doubt that Berbatov has looked marginally better in the past few weeks than he has done since he arrived at Old Trafford but I wouldn't want to rely too heavily on him.

From our own experience during the World Cup qualifiers, Berbatov looks like a man who doesn't enjoy pressure at all and if he has finally reached some sort of accommodation with his circumstances at Old Trafford, it will take something much more concrete if he is to have the kind of impact his manager needs from him.

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