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Monday 18 December 2017

Valencia 'bad blow': Fergie

Injury to star winger puts blot on United win over Ajax as Red Devils warm to Europa League

MANCHESTER United manager Alex Ferguson has admitted it is "a bad blow" to lose Antonio Valencia for four weeks with a hamstring strain.

The South American had only been on the field for 10 minutes following his introduction as a second-half substitute.

However, after playing an integral role in Javier Hernandez's second in United's 2-0 Europa League win over Ajax in Amsterdam, Valencia was immediately replaced.

And Ferguson confirmed the news was grim. "It is a bad blow for us," he said. "He has a hamstring injury unfortunately. It will be four weeks."

Valencia has been one of United's best players in recent weeks but will now definitely miss the crucial Premier League showdown with Tottenham at White Hart Lane on March 4.

If there was a positive it was that Nani and Ashley Young were amongst those to return to action.

Young marked his first appearance since Christmas with his fourth goal of the season, breaking the deadlock after a dismal first-half display.

"The result was better than the performance," said Ferguson. "The first half was disappointing. We found it difficult to get rhythm and speed to our game. Ajax pressed the ball very well and played nice football.

"We had to wake up in the second half because we were making it difficult for ourselves.

"The second half improved and we made some good opportunities. We deserved to win and you can't complain too much when you win 2-0 away from home."

Next Thursday's second leg should be a formality, allowing United to book a last-16 encounter with either Lokomotiv Moscow or Athletic Bilbao.

The Russians hold a narrow lead after the first leg, raising the potential for a lengthy trip to Moscow in between key Premier League fixtures against West Brom and Wolves.

It is the kind of draining schedule that has caught out so many other teams in the past.

However, Ferguson is hopeful United have the strength to meet the demands.

Incentive

"Hopefully we have the squad to cope with this competition," he said, contemplating a rare weekend off as United are out of the FA Cup.

"Of course, it is difficult to say because we have never experienced it.

"But there are some very good teams in it, so there is no lack of incentive.

"Winning is a habit too and we are in a good spell just now."

For the United fans, there had been the day out in Amsterdam followed by a night out in Amsterdam.

They also enjoyed their early evening at the ArenA, which contained a magnificent atmosphere.

Some of the music was surreal, indicating that the Dutch folk scene is alive and well, but the half-time entertainment was immense. Two Dutch rockers strolled on and mesmerised the audience with an impassioned reworking of the Kings of Leon classic into "Ajax Is On Fire".

Scouted

For the neutrals there was the pleasure derived by watching two of the Ajax players. Their captain and ball-playing centre-half Jan Vertonghen, who is being scouted by Tottenham Hotspur, dribbled around Wayne Rooney in the first half, sparking huge applause.

Christian Eriksen, who is seemingly being scouted by everyone, enhanced his reputation as a two-footed, mobile attacker. At the final whistle, Eriksen padded after Paul Scholes to shake hands. Ajax have another Danish prince in Viktor Fischer, a 17-year-old attacker for whom the club have high hopes.

This club has such a wonderful rich tradition. Down every corridor there is a photograph of a Bergkamp or a Van Basten.

Echoes of the total football of the past were seen in pictures of Johan Cruyff and one huge sign declaring: "You can't bring Johan down."

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