Champions grateful for winger Valencia’s return for Bilbao trip

Antonio Valencia has returned to Manchester United’s squad for tonight’s Europa League encounter with Athletic Bilbao.

But his presence on the Premier League champions’ flight to Spain was offset by the absence of Anderson, Nani and Phil Jones.

Sir Alex Ferguson said last night that midfielder Anderson will be out of action for between four and five weeks with a hamstring injury.

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United’s manager also confirmed Nani had sat out Sunday’s Premier League win over West Brom with “bruising” suffered during a training-ground knock.

With Nani currently missing, the return of Valencia is good news.

The Ecuador winger was in impressive form until he suffered a hamstring injury in Amsterdam four weeks ago.

As United have since assumed top spot in the Premier League, Ferguson is keen to have as many men as possible available for the run-in.

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The Red Devils’ 20-man travelling squad included teenager Paul Pogba, surely a further sign that the young French midfielder is ready to spurn the offer of a lucrative contract from Juventus.

Paul Scholes was there, too, although whether the veteran starts tonight is open to debate given United are 3-2 down after the home leg and face a trip to relegation-threatened Wolves, who were bottom of the table when they beat Ferguson’s men at Molineux last season.

Under the circumstances, there are plenty who think today’s tie is one worth sacrificing, although Ashley Young is not one of them, even if United have never recovered from a home first-leg deficit in a European knockout game.

“It is unusual that we find ourselves in this position but there is a great team spirit here and everyone is full of confidence,” said the winger. “Our form in general makes us believe we can score wherever we play.

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“Our attacking play has been fantastic of late and we believe we can score the two goals we need.”

Ferguson has confirmed Manchester United’s £30.75m record signing Dimitar Berbatov is set to leave Old Trafford in the summer.