With Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs limping out of Sunday's draw against Newcastle and Owen Hargreaves unlikely to figure against Portsmouth on Monday as he waits for a tendinitis problem to ease sufficiently for him to begin playing again, Ferguson's squad is down to the bare bones.

The United boss has been offered a glimmer of light after Brazil's failure to beat Argentina and reach the Olympic final this weekend.

Instead, Anderson and his team-mates will tackle Belgium in the third-place match on Friday, after which the former Porto player's commitments are technically over.

Given the protocol surrounding the Olympics and the knowledge Anderson would probably not be able to get back to England until Sunday evening at the earliest, Ferguson will probably decide it is not worth trying.

However, such is the lack of bodies at Old Trafford just now, the Scot may be sorely tempted.

Ironically, the one area United have plenty of cover is defence, which explains why Mikael Silvestre is on the brink of a £750,000 move to Sunderland.

The former France international has been with United for nine years now. But his first-team chances were going to be restricted this season and it appears he has decided to leave, although not for Manchester City as had been rumoured.

Meanwhile, Hargreaves has vowed United fans will see much better from him after claiming he was never more than 60% fit last season.

The midfielder was plagued by a tendinitis problem last term, an injury which resurfaced at the start of this season.

Armed with the knowledge gained from 12 months ago, United's medical staff feel they have got on top of the problem.

And while Ferguson is not expecting Hargreaves to be fit for the trip to Fratton Park, the 27-year-old is confident that when he does eventually make an appearance he will be around for good.

"There is a lot more to come from me," he said.

"I don't think I played a game healthy last season. I was at about 50 or 60% at best.

"When I had another scan on the knee this summer it had not improved, so I came back early to try to fix it at the beginning of pre-season.

"Hopefully I will be fit pretty soon."

As well as missing vital games for his club, the former Bayern Munich man is also being forced to sit out England's friendly with the Czech Republic tomorrow and, quite possibly, the crucial World Cup qualifiers with Andorra and Croatia next month.

However, while he is understandably frustrated at not being able to play any part at present, Hargreaves remains confident everything will turn out fine in the end, just as it did last term as he ended up a Barclays Premier League and Champions League winner.

"I am not going to set a timetable but I am close," he said.

"I am working on my fitness every day and while I have not joined in with the lads yet, hopefully it will happen this week.

"Whether I am fit for Portsmouth or the match after that, the most important thing is I am healthy for the rest of the season."

Hargreaves has no doubt he made the right decision in quitting Bayern Munich for United, allowing the Calgary-born star to play in the country he opted to play for.

He could never say Bayern did not have state-of-the-art facilities. However, he does feel the whole operation at United is geared towards improvement.

"I know how much I better I can get being around the players and coaching staff here," he said.

"I have not even come close to fulfilling my potential yet. And, providing I stay healthy, this could be a really big season for me."