Keeper trouble has Manchester United in a Shield puzzle
Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted he faces a major dilemma over his goalkeeper for Manchester United's Community Shield showdown with Chelsea at Wembley on Sunday.
With Edwin van der Sar sidelined for two months after breaking two fingers during the recent Audi Cup in Munich, both Ben Foster and Tomasz Kuszczak are pushing to replace the Dutchman.
Foster has most to gain given he is expected to be named in Fabio Capello's England squad for next week's friendly in Holland when it is announced on Saturday.
However, Kuszczak is also hoping for a recall to Polish ranks and knows regular first-team action at United is bound to help his cause.
Both men figured for 45 minutes in the 2-0 win over Valencia last night.
While Foster did not have much to do in the opening period, Kuszczak made two excellent saves to keep the La Liga outfit at bay after the interval.
And now Ferguson must decide who to trust with the role as the Red Devils aim to land their first piece of silverware of the season at Carlo Ancelotti's expense.
“I do have a decision to make over the goalkeeper for Sunday,” reflected Ferguson.
“Both Ben and Tomasz have outstanding qualities. Tomasz made two great saves last night, as he did against Boca Juniors, so we will see.”
The odds remain on Foster getting the nod given Ferguson has already stated his belief that the former Stoke man will have overtaken David James as Capello's first choice by next summer's World Cup in South Africa.
Yet the goalkeeping position is not the only one vexing the United boss after suffering a mini-defensive injury crisis.
Nemanja Vidic, Wes Brown, Gary Neville and Rafael Da Silva all missed last night's game and have already been ruled out of the Chelsea encounter.
Ferguson rates Vidic and Brown as outside bets at best to overcome ankle and thigh problems ahead of the Premier League opener with Birmingham at Old Trafford on August 16.
John O'Shea is pencilled in for an appearance in United's back four alongside Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra and Jonny Evans this weekend.
Belgian international Ritchie De Laet made an eye-catching contribution to the Valencia victory at right-back, while Northern Ireland under-21 star Craig Cathcart would have been picked had he not suffered a minor groin strain in training on Tuesday.
“We have a group of young players, including Ritchie, Craig, Jonny Evans and Fabio who have ability and are all quick,” said Ferguson.
“It was important for them all to play some part last night.”
While Ferguson has never treated the Community Shield as anything other than a pre-season game, even though he is bidding for an eighth victory — and his third on the trot — it does provide the first meaningful opportunity to erase the memory of last season's Champions League final defeat to Barcelona.
The loss was a comprehensive one and Ferguson has tended to skirt around the issue in assessing the campaign that lies ahead.
What the Scot does feel is that United can emerge stronger from the lesson.
“Adversity is always an important factor in developing and improving,” he said.
“I have always reacted well to adversity over the years and whenever we lose a match I tell my players that the next game is the important one — the match we have to focus on.
“That has always been the case here at the club.
“When you lose the last game of the season you have two or three months to reflect on the disappointment.
“We have not enjoyed that, but we will cope — and we will bounce back.”