Van der Sar & Ferdinand near United returns

MANCHESTER - Manchester United's defensive crisis is easing with goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar and defender Rio Ferdinand back in training, manager Alex Ferguson said on Friday.

United have played with a patched up backline for the last six weeks after a plethora of injuries to the likes of Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Nemanja Vidic and John O'Shea.

A back complaint has sidelined Ferdinand since United's 2-0 loss to Liverpool on October 25 but his recovery is now virtually complete while Dutchman van der Sar has been on compassionate leave following his wife's brain haemorrhage before Christmas.

The 39-year-old was told by Ferguson to take all the time he needs to help his wife Annemarie recover but he has now returned to the club.

Although Saturday's encounter with Burnley is expected to be a match too early for the duo, Ferguson is confident they will both return to action before the end of the month and help soothe part of his defensive headache.

"We have some light at the end of the tunnel during the week with Edwin van der Sar coming back to training," Ferguson told reporters on Friday.

"He's done very well, he's obviously been out for a few weeks with a personal situation but it's great to see him back and that experience when he finally does come in will be important to us.

"That is an issue for us, getting solid defending back into the team and our consistency back."

United are second in the standings, one point behind leaders Chelsea.

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