Sir Alex Ferguson has confirmed that Rio Ferdinand is 'making progress' in his bid to recover from a back injury.
The defender has failed to shake off the injury, which also troubled him last season, for some time, but the Manchester United boss is confident the 31-year-old will be back in time for the busy Christmas period.
The news that John O'Shea (thigh) and Jonny Evans (calf) also remain sidelined means that Wes Brown will continue to partner Nemanja Vidic at the heart of the defence for the trip to Portsmouth on Saturday.
Ferguson has been fulsome in his praise of Brown recently, insisting the 30-year-old's form has softened the blow of losing Ferdinand.
"Rio is coming along," he told the club's official website.
"He is making progress but it's difficult with back injuries. Nature sometimes helps you, but we are looking forward to him coming back.
"Our concerns still centre around John O'Shea and Jonny Evans. They are both doubtful for Saturday.
"So we will have to go with defenders we have at the moment. Gary Neville is fit, as is Rafael and Patrice Evra will come back in.
"But I'm really pleased with the form of Wes Brown and Nemanja Vidic. They've been fantastic in recent games."