Phil Jones and Chris Smalling will give Manchester United the strength in depth to challenge on all fronts, according to Sir Alex Ferguson.
With the table-topping Reds facing a busy end to the calendar year, the boss is eager to welcome back the pair of young England internationals, both of whom missed the first three months of the season through injury.
"Phil Jones starts training next Monday on the football side with us," Sir Alex told his pre-match press conference in Braga on Tuesday. "He’s making really good progress.
"Chris Smalling is with us in Portugal. That’s good news for us because since the start of the season we’ve been operating on the borderline, with [our fit] defenders having to play all the time and Michael Carrick having to play at centre-back sometimes.
"Smalling and Jones are outstanding young defenders and it'll give us a fantastic squad; the complete squad to mount all our challenges. We’ve done well so far, but I think we can be stronger as a unit with players like Smalling and Jones back."
While United's attack and defence have come under heavy scrutiny for contrasting reasons this season, Sir Alex has been delighted by the evolution of his midfield ranks.
"I think we have a good squad of players," he said. "The area I'm most pleased about is the attacking, I think there's goals there. Obviously we’ve got some work to do on the defending part.
"But I think the real encouraging part is that, bit by bit, we’re gaining a good collection of outstanding young midfield players, which I’m delighted about because everyone spoke about [Paul] Scholes coming to the end.
"Of course he’s coming to the end, he’s 38 this month. [Ryan] Giggs is 39 this month but players like Anderson, [Darren] Fletcher, [Tom] Cleverley, the young boy [Nick] Powell and [Shinji] Kagawa are proving that we are gathering good, strong midfield players. That encourages me more."