Belfast Telegraph

Valencia on target for early Manchester United return

Manchester United may be able to add Antonio Valencia earlier than expected to a side whose return to the top of the Premier League has coincided with a resurgence of their attacking options.

The 25-year-old Ecuadorian's season initially seemed over after he suffered a fracture of the tibia and fibula against Rangers in September, with Sir Alex Ferguson putting his return date as February at the earliest, but Valencia has been able to dispense with the medical boot he has been wearing and doctors are delighted with the way the leg is healing.

Valencia, whose contribution from the right was critical to Wayne Rooney's 34 goals last season, may be back by mid-February or even earlier if he maintains his progress.

Alongside the rehabilitation of Rooney, Valencia's recuperation bodes well for the second half of United's campaign, though it will be to younger and less utilised players that Ferguson will look in the Carling Cup quarter-final at West Ham United tonight.

Few have more to prove than goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak, who has appeared only three times for United this season and who has grounds to feel that his hopes of a career at Old Trafford have gone, with Anders Lindegaard signing at the weekend for £3.5m.

Kuszczak is in his sixth season at United, but has made only 54 appearances and in September he admitted he could follow the former United keeper Ben Foster in seeking a move.

“The years are going by and I will be 29 after this season. I want to enjoy football and I want to play,” he said.

Another player who needs a major display tonight is Darron Gibson, whose contribution in last season's Carling Cup suggested he might be the coming man.

The 23-year-old Republic of Ireland international has not started a league game this season.

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