Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Fit-again Fletcher raring to go

Darren Fletcher has spent much of the last three years on the sidelines due to ulcerative colitis

After three years of pain and frustration, Darren Fletcher's road to recovery finally appears to be nearing its end.

Fletcher captained Manchester United to their fourth and most impressive pre-season win on Saturday when they defeated Real Madrid 3-1 at Michigan Stadium in front of 109,318 spectators.

With all the focus being on Louis van Gaal, the story of Fletcher's return to the first-team has flown under the radar over the last fortnight.

The Scot has played more minutes (270) than any other member of the 26-man squad, which is an impressive feat considering what he has been through in the last few seasons.

In 2011 Fletcher was diagnosed with chronic bowel disease ulcerative colitis.

The debilitating illness left Fletcher "running to the toilet 10, 20, 30 times a day," he explained recently.

As a result, Fletcher has spent nearly two of the last three years on the sidelines.

It is no surprise, therefore, that he is happy to be back to full fitness.

"I don't want to look back, but everyone knows I've been through a lot," Fletcher said.

"I have not had a pre-season for three years.

"But now I am back in the gym and I am feeling the benefits from that.

"I am getting stronger and hopefully I can get as fit as possible.

"I am looking forward to the new season."

For a man who has dedicated the last 19 years of his life to Manchester United, last season's seventh-place under David Moyes was hard to take.

The midfielder and his team-mates want to prove that was nothing but a blip.

"Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea all finished above us last year so it was disappointing for us," he said.

"Next season we all want to show what we are capable of.

"We have got a fantastic team spirit. We were talking about it the other night among ourselves.

"We are all pulling in the right direction and we all want the best for Manchester United.

"We realise some experienced players have gone and it's up to us to come together and get us back up there."

It may just be pre-season, but the fact that three of United's four wins on tour have come against some of Europe's top clubs has given the squad optimism about the season ahead.

Van Gaal must take credit for installing that confidence among the playing staff.

The contrast between the atmosphere in the camp and the final weeks of Moyes' reign could not be greater.

The players are happy to undertake double training sessions under their new manager and they have adapted well to Van Gaal's 3-4-1-2 formation.

The players are smiling again. And so is the manager, who was happy to chat and pose for photographs with fans after the match in Ann Arbor on Saturday.

"We are just enjoying it," Fletcher said when asked about the difference between this season and the last.

"The manager expects a lot from us and he thinks we have got the ability to do it.

"He demands a lot, but the players have responded.

"We are enjoying playing in a new system and under him."

There could be no finer way for Van Gaal to round off his first tour as United boss than with a win over Liverpool in the International Champions Cup final on Monday.

It may be just another friendly on paper, but the rivalry between the two arch rivals makes the Miami showdown an enticing prospect.

"It's Man Utd v Liverpool. It doesn't matter if it's pre-season. We want to win," said Fletcher, who is confident of overcoming a calf injury to play.

Just like United, Liverpool have experienced a summer of upheaval, with star striker Luis Suarez departing for Barcelona.

The Reds have registered wins over Manchester City, AC Milan and Olympiacos while in the US though so they will be confident of taking home the one million US dollar prize (£600,000) too.

Liverpool will be without Daniel Sturridge as he has been sent home for treatment on a hamstring injury which kept him out of Saturday's 2-0 win over AC Milan.

"Dan has flown back to the UK," Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers said.

"He had a really, really slight feeling in his hamstring. It's nothing major."

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