Man Utd old guard key after international break

Posted by Mark Payne

Ryan Giggs celebrates his goal for Manchester United against QPRGettyImagesRetired internationals like Ryan Giggs now crucial for Man United

Manchester United have a mixed history with busy match schedules. They threw away the title playing too many games in a short space of time in 1992 and the team has shown signs of fatigue in recent outings. Despite the 15-point lead they will take into the weekend's Premier League fixtures, nothing can be taken for granted at this crucial stage of the season.

- Van Persie glad to end title 'pain'

"Every coach is praying that their players come back fit [from the international break]," said Sir Alex Ferguson this week. The United manager can rely on the presence, and presumably fitness, of Rio Ferdinand and Anderson along with international retirees Nemanja Vidic and Ryan Giggs for Saturday's game at Sunderland. "Once I know how many minutes each player has played, I'll start to think about my team for Saturday."

David de Gea joined up with world champions Spain but didn't play and can be expected to reclaim his place in goal. Rafael hasn't played any football and will line up at right-back in the north-east. Forty-eight hours later United face Chelsea in London and will want to field a strong eleven.

Patrice Evra has had a mixed time with France. He was part of the team that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, well a draw anyway, against a resurgent Spain, but oddly did not make up part of the side that defeated Georgia four days earlier. He may return to Manchester with his ego and confidence knocked. "The tide is turning our way," said Evra before the Spain fixture. It turned back.

Robin van Persie's form is returning. Although he had only scored once in ten for United, he has managed to score three times in a few short days for Netherlands. "I'm in a lesser period at my club right now and it's nice to score some goals for the national team to get through that," said the Dutchman on Wednesday. However, he has played all but four minutes of the international break and is unlikely to be risked on Saturday.

Similarly, Javier Hernandez plundered two goals for Mexico in their win over Honduras, but two games in a week mean he won't play against Sunderland. Chicharito almost always scores against Chelsea and Ferguson has chartered a private jet to bring him home from the Americas. Expect him to start in the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge.

Antonio Valencia and Shinji Kagawa also played twice during the break and have travelled large distances to do so. As such, the six-strong contingent of players who turned out for England may well be called on again at the weekend.

For all of the tension between United and the FA, the national team certainly lean heavily on the league leaders when it comes to playing staff. Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley have both been drafted into the national side recently without any guarantee of making it to next year's World Cup. Along with Ashley Young, they have done their duty quietly and without fuss. If any of those players are ring rusty for the match on Saturday, Ferguson will be furious.

Because of the international make up of United's squad, this critical weekend will see the old guard called upon again. Giggs and Vidic, along with controversy magnet Rio Ferdinand, are the freshest players available. And it is their performances that are likely to define the coming matches.

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