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Fergie backs Valencia

LONDON, December 18 – Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has backed Antonio Valencia to shine as his patched-up side tackle Fulham at Craven Cottage on Saturday.ANTONIO_VALENCIA_1_7United’s straightforward 3-0 victory over Wolves on Tuesday kept the pressure on Premier League leaders Chelsea with Valencia scoring one of United’s goals to give him six so far this term.

Ferguson expects that figure to keep on increasing as the midfielder gets used to life at Old Trafford following his 16 million pounds pre-season move from Wigan.

"Antonio’s improvement has been tremendous," Ferguson said. "He came to us as a quiet young man but now he is expansive in his game and is expressing himself really, really well.

"Goals are also an area we want to see him getting better at.

"That is the area in which we like to see him improve. All young players come here to develop and he is. He is capable of scoring goals now. We see it in training all the time."

The visitors will again have to field a makeshift defence for this encounter with Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, John O’Shea and Gary Neville all sidelined with injuries.

England centre-back Ferdinand’s absence has been the longest and hardest felt at Old Trafford but the United captain is confident he will return soon to add his experience to their title campaign.

He has not played since the Reds’ 2-0 loss at Liverpool in October thanks to a calf injury, linked to a previous back problem, but expects to return soon.

"It’s the worst thing for a player to be injured and to be just watching your team, so I’ve been working hard in the gym to get fit," said Ferdinand.

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"I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s been a tough and long layoff for me because I have never been injured before."

United could also be without Ryan Giggs and Nani who have suffered slight knocks this week while Owen Hargreaves also remains on the long-term injured list as he continues his rehabilitation following knee surgery.

Fulham manager Roy Hodgson believes his side can take confidence from their midweek Europa League victory ahead of their showdown with the champions.

Two goals from Bobby Zamora and a Zoltan Gera finished help Fulham beat Basel 3-2 in Switzerland on Wednesday to send the London club through to the last 32 of the successor to the UEFA Cup.

Fulham are also unbeaten in their last four Premier League encounters so should prove a tough challenge for United and Hodgson hopes the Basel result will give his team a lift.

"I’m very satisfied with what we’ve done," said Hodgson. "I’m particularly pleased for the fans.

"It’s not normal for Fulham to be in Europe, having qualified through our League position, so I’m really pleased for them and the players too."

Hodgson also praised the efforts of Zamora who has silenced his critics in recent weeks by scoring in Fulham’s last three matches.

"Bobby Zamora carried on from where he left off in the Premier League," he added. "He’s got to be delighted with his performance.

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"The one criticism of him has been he hasn’t scored enough goals – but nine goals so far this season is a pretty good return for any forward."

Fulham have a slight concern over Zamora’s back niggle while Simon Davies and Diomansy Kamara are certain to miss Saturday’s match with respective ankle and knee injuries and Andy Johnson is also a doubt.

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