Wayne Rooney is in contention for a surprise return to action for Manchester United against Crystal Palace today, less than a fortnight after being ruled out for three weeks with a head wound.
Rooney was forced out of England's World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine after suffering a three-inch gash to his forehead during an accidental training ground collision with Phil Jones two weeks ago.
But with David Moyes initially voicing fears that the 27-year-old would be battling to be fit for the Manchester derby on Sept 22, the United manager has now admitted Rooney could face Palace at Old Trafford this lunchtime with his wound healing more quickly than originally anticipated. "It's something we will look at," Moyes said.
"It could be a risk because you could just knock the head and it could split open because it's right down there [centre of forehead]. But it has healed really well, better than we thought."
Rooney may be given a protective headband. While Rooney's potential return to action today would reopen the debate as to whether he could have played for England in Kiev earlier this week, it is understood that the depth of the cut would have made it too dangerous to risk him against Ukraine.
Moyes will make a final decision on Rooney's participation against Palace this morning, with next Tuesday's Champions League clash against Bayer Leverkusen and the trip to Manchester City on Sunday also likely to influence whether he is selected.
Aside from Rooney's progress, Moyes revealed that Darren Fletcher had taken his first steps towards a return to action after reporting back to training this week following summer surgery to resolve a long-term bowel condition. Fletcher has not figured for United since last December, but the midfielder has spent almost three years battling against the debilitating effects of colitis and Moyes admits a first-team return remains some distance away.
Moyes said: "He's a long way away from being ready and we'll use the doctors and physios' advice, but we'll give him little bits of football and just pick him up over the coming months and see how he goes." Moyes, who admitted Shinji Kagawa was struggling to overcome flu in time to face Palace, unveiled 27.5 million pounds signing Marouane Fellaini at Old Trafford yesterday and said he planned to deploy the former Everton midfielder in a deep-lying role.
"We'll play him further back the pitch than up the pitch," Moyes said. "We've got enough people who can play the No?10 role, like Kagawa, Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Adnan Januzaj, who is coming through."