Ferguson warns United squad to stay on their toes

LONDON (AFP) - Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has re-assured his fringe players that they will all have parts to play as the Premier League leaders chase silverware on three fronts.

United host Real Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League last 16 tie on Tuesday, which will once again leave Ferguson facing awkward decisions about who to select.

In the 1-1 draw in Madrid two weeks ago, United skipper Nemanja Vidic and wingers Nani and Ashley Young were all overlooked for inclusion in the match-day squad. But Ferguson says his players should look to the club's recent past for examples of how to deal with getting left out.

"In 1999 I left Paul Scholes out of the (Champions League) quarter-final against Inter Milan, yet he was the one who scored the goal that got us through," Ferguson told in-house television channel MUTV.

"I left him out of the semi-final because I couldn't risk him and Roy Keane together as they were both on yellow cards. He accepted it graciously, came on, got booked, and missed the final anyway.

"What did he do? He didn't let it affect him. He went on to become one of the greatest players this club has ever had.

"The players sense it could be a big year for them.

"But at this club, in this situation, anything can happen on the run-in.

Players can all of a sudden find themselves playing in a final or an important league game because that is the kind of squad I have." With the Madrid game looming large, Ferguson is likely to rest players for Saturday's league game at home to Norwich City but he says he will not tolerate any signs that his squad are slacking off.

"It is very difficult to rotate the squad at the moment," he said.

"They all wanted to play against Real Madrid and there were a lot of disappointed players.

"That was fantastic. It is a measure of their own confidence in themselves.

"But we had a chat. I said: 'Look, don't think for a minute losing a game for Manchester United is a trivial matter.' It is a serious matter." As well as their commitments in the league and the Champions League, United have also reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, as they bid to pull off a repeat of their memorable 1999 Treble.

Ferguson hopes his side's quest for trophies will be helped by the fact the condition of the Old Trafford pitch has improved significantly since it began to show serious signs of wear and tear during the Christmas period.

"The pitch has improved a tremendous amount," he said.

"By the time we play Norwich I expect it will be back to normal, so hopefully we can take advantage."