Valencia could return by end of February

MANCHESTER - Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia could be fit to play by the end of February following his horrific ankle injury, manager Sir Alex Ferguson said on Friday.

The Ecuadorian broke and dislocated his ankle in September's goalless draw with Rangers in the Champions League, with television channels unwilling to show replays of of the incident given the sickening direction his foot was pointing in.

"Valencia is doing well now, he's started his running programme," Ferguson told a news conference, adding that the 25-year-old had been working with the physios every day.

"He's been given the all clear from the doctors, so he's under our complete control now which is great news.

"I think possibly towards the end of February he should be back in the first team squad which is a big boost to us, something for us to look forward to."

Valencia had originally been expected to miss the rest of the season but after undergoing surgery the timeframe was shortened although this would still be an earlier return than expected.

In his absence, Portugal's Nani has been deployed effectively on the right wing and if Valencia returns United will have two dangerous players on the flanks - with Nani probably moving back to the left - as they seek a record 19th English league title.

Valencia's imminent return adds weight to defender Rio Ferdinand's view that the club do not need to buy players in this transfer window.

"I don't see a problem with the depth of our squad. When everyone's fit, we've got the best in the league," local media quoted him as saying.

"In midfield we've got (Michael) Carrick, (Darren) Fletcher, (Paul) Scholes, Anderson, (Ryan) Giggs, Park (Ji-sung), Nani, Valencia, (Owen) Hargreaves. That's an abundance of talent and people say 'You've not got depth in the squad'.

"But try and pick a foursome out of that - it's difficult."

League leaders United, who are level on 45 points with Manchester City but have played two games fewer, host struggling Birmingham City on Saturday.