By North-west correspondent Alex Stevens
Manchester United fear Wayne Rooney could be missing until the new year in another blow to the injury-plagued team.
United will have nine first-team players sidelined when they look to bounce back from their Champions League exit at Bournemouth on Saturday evening.
Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian joined the treatment table queue after Tuesday’s defeat at Wolfsburg and suspended Bastian Schweinsteiger is added to the group of eight injury absentees.
Manager Louis van Gaal expects Smalling (groin), Darmian (hamstring) and Ander Herrera (hamstring) to be back for the Premier League home match against Norwich on 19 December but is not hopeful about skipper Rooney or Phil Jones while Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia will be out well into 2016.
The growing fear for United is that Rooney, who has missed the team’s last two matches with an ankle injury, could also be sidelined for the back-to-back Stoke and Chelsea matches on 26 December and 28 December, ruling him out until 2016.
On the busy festive schedule, Van Gaal told MUTV on Friday afternoon: “It is not beneficial for us because we have a heavy programme but I believe that Smalling, Herrera and Darmian are coming back before Christmas.”
The one bright spot is the return of midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin, who missed the Wolfsburg defeat with a hip problem.
Van Gaal explained: “Schneiderlin is coming back, that’s not a problem, but we have a list of eight players injured and Rojo has been operated on this week and it takes a long time. These injuries are very heavy – Shaw and Valencia have also been operated on and that’s our problem.”