Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will turn to Wes Brown to fill the defensive void left by the suspension of Nemanja Vidic following the Serbian’s dismissal in last night’s damaging loss at the hands of Chelsea.
Vidic was sent off in the final minutes of the 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge, which means United will be without either of their first-choice centre-halves for Sunday’s Barclays Premier League game at Liverpool.
Rio Ferdinand is still troubled by the calf injury he sustained in the warm-up prior to the defeat at Wolves a month ago, so Brown will fill the central defensive vacancy alongside youngster Chris Smalling.
“I don’t think Rio will be fit for Liverpool,” said Ferguson. “Wes Brown will take over. He has great experience.”
United will head to Merseyside under some degree of pressure following their second Premier League reverse of the campaign.
Although they retain a healthy 12-point advantage over Chelsea, the gap to nearest challengers Arsenal is only four, and both clubs now have a game in hand on Ferguson’s men.
According to Ferguson, the man to blame for United finding themselves in this predicament is last night’s referee, Martin Atkinson.
Ferguson was not happy to learn the Yorkshireman was in charge given the lingering resentment at John Terry’s winner in the corresponding fixture last season.
The United boss was incensed after Atkinson played on after a trip by Chelsea scorer David Luiz on Wayne Rooney that could have resulted in a red card before awarding Yuri Zhirkov a “soft” penalty when he tumbled under Smalling’s challenge moments later.
Frank Lampard converted the spot-kick to extend Chelsea’s unbeaten home record over United to nine seasons and leave Ferguson furious.
“You hope you get a strong referee in games like this,” he said.
“It was a major game for both clubs. You want a fair referee - or a strong referee, anyway - and we didn’t get that.
“I don’t know why he has got the game. I must say, when I saw who the referee was I did fear it. I feared the worst.
“It’s hard to take. The Luiz foul was six yards in front of the referee, maybe eight if we give him the benefit of the doubt, no obstructions whatsoever. I don’t know how he stayed on the pitch.
“And the penalty was very soft. In actual fact, Chris has taken the ball and the player’s left his leg in. Very soft. Amazing.”
Once the heat of battle has cooled, Ferguson may reflect that Rooney might not have been on the pitch to give United their first-half lead given his actions at Wigan on Saturday, although, last night, the United boss was full of praise for his striker.
“Wayne was terrific,” he said. “He was a constant threat. He took a lot of abuse but he kept coming back.”