MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21: Phil Jones of Manchester United reacts during a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Group C match against Benfica at Carrington Training Ground on November 21, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
The mood was jovial after Manchester United's 5-0 away defeat of Fulham FC at Craven Cottage on Wednesday night. However, injuries have been a hindrance to the squad as of late and the situation worsened when both Phil Jones and Ashley Young were forced to depart the match due to injury. Early on, Jones was caught with an elbow in mid-air by Clint Dempsey. The United defender/midfielder continued on but he was eventually forced to substitute off in the 20th minute due to the injury sustained to his jaw. No time frame was given for his recovery but here is what manager Sir Alex Ferguson had to say after the match about Jones' injury:
"We’ll send him for an X-ray tomorrow. He had an elbow to his jaw. It was an elbow by Dempsey but I don’t think it was deliberate."
Young was the player who came on for Jones but he too was forced to be substituted off in the 59th minute after a heavy challenge on Dickson Etuhu. According to Fergie, it appears that the winger will not return until sometime in January:
"Fulham were very aggressive and Ashley Young has paid the price for that. He’ll be out for two or three weeks."
In addition, Rio Ferdinand missed the Fulham clash due to a foot injury. It appears that defender will also miss the Boxing Day tie with Wigan Athletic but he is anticipated to be available for the Blackburn Rovers match on New Year's Eve. Here is Fergie describing Ferdinand's situation:
"Rio got a knock on the foot on Sunday against Queens Park Rangers. I think he’ll be available for Blackburn [on New Year’s Eve] but not the Wigan game."
Quite obviously, injuries are never ideal and that is especially so during such a congested festive fixture list. Squad rotation is almost essential.
The injuries to Ferdiand and Jones severely limits options in defense, especially when considering that captain Nemanja Vidic recently sustained a season-ending injury. In addition, the da Silva twins -- Fabio and Rafael -- are also recovering form injury but the latter was available as a substitute versus Fulham. The youngster Zeki Fryers -- who lacks experience with the first-team -- can provide cover at left-back and center-back while winger Antonio Valencia can provide emergency cover at right-back. Assuming that Rafael is likely available for the Wigan tie, that only leaves Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, and Patrice Evra as experienced options in defense.
Jones' injury also hinders the midfield depth as he has been used in central-midfield during the four prior matches to Fulham. With the current injuries to Tom Cleverley and Anderson, and the illness to Darren Fletcher, that only leaves the in-form Michael Carrick and 38-year-old Ryan Giggs (sort of) as natural options in central midfield. Park Ji-sung is capable of doing a job there as well and perhaps youngster Paul Pogba can provide cover just as Fryers has done recently in defense.
Young's injury hurts depth on the flanks but both Valencia and Nani have been providing fine performances as of late. In addition, Park is more than capable of featuring on either flank as well.
United currently sit 2nd in the table and trail leaders Manchester City by just two points. The next two matches versus Wigan and Blackburn are at Old Trafford and it is vital that Fergie's side does not drop any points in these winnable matches. Hopefully the plethora of injuries -- specifically the affect that it has on the squad's depth during a period with a congested fixture list -- doesn't cause any unexpected setbacks in United's title chase.