Michael Owen has injured his thigh and will not be risked when Manchester United return to Premier League action against Sunderland at Old Trafford on Saturday. The former England striker lasted just 10 minutes of a rare start against Romanian minnows Otelul Galati on match-day four of the Champions League on Wednesday and manager Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed he expects the 31-year-old to be out of action for some time.
The former Real Madrid and Liverpool favourite picked up the injury during the move which led to Antonio Valencia's opener as the three-time winners edged closer to qualification for the knock-out stages of Europe's elite club competition. The football betting suggests they should make it through without too many problems.
Victory against Benfica next month at Old Trafford and Group C table-toppers United will go through to the business end of the Champions League.
Ferguson admitted the win – and second clean sheet in succession in all competitions – had come at a cost for the luckless Owen, whose career has been disrupted by a string of injury lay-offs.
"It's a blow for the lad," said the Red Devils' boss. "He's done a thigh muscle and it's a complete freak.
"I feel for him. It's difficult to say how long-term it is."
Owen would have been unlikely to start in the Premier League that often, but he will be a miss in terms of options from the bench.
Ferguson said he was looking forward to the visit of the Portuguese giants – the team United famously beat to win the 1968 European Cup final – and was pleased the club were not in control of their own destiny off the back of two draws in Europe.
The Scot added: "Given the history between both clubs (us and Benfica) it should be a good night, a good atmosphere, a really big game and we can look forward to that one."
Former United defender and current Black Cats boss Steve Bruce has tried to beat his old manager and club 17 times with Sunderland, Wigan and Birmingham, but remains without a win.