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By ESPN Staff

Neville keen to battle back into United XI

Gary Neville cannot wait to get stuck into the battle for a first-team place at Manchester United.

As the Red Devils captain and a veteran of 14 years standing, Neville might expect to be guaranteed a place in Sir Alex Ferguson's side.

But Neville knows that during a 15-month absence incorporating a broken ankle, hamstring and calf injuries, Wes Brown has stepped manfully into the breach.

It was Brown who was preferred by Ferguson at the end of last season, including the Champions League Final epic with Chelsea.

Neville accepts he has a personal battle to win this term, before he can even think of club success.

'My challenge this season is not only to stay fit, but to make my way into the team again,' the 33-year-old told

'That's going to be difficult because of the way Wes performed and also Owen Hargreaves and John O'Shea in the right-back position.

'The competition for places throughout the team is fantastic. But I have never been afraid of a challenge and I don't see it as a pressure or a burden. It is exciting and a fantastic incentive.'

Neville is expected to feature tomorrow when United tackle FA Cup winners Portsmouth in the Community Shield.

It will be a welcome return to domestic combat, after a gap stretching back to March 2007 and his broken ankle against Bolton.

Never short of an opinion or two, Neville thinks he could be facing one of the Barclays Premier League's new top four.

While Ferguson once again predicts the established quartet of Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and United will dominate, Neville is not so sure.

'Harry Redknapp has done a fantastic job getting the players that he has brought in,' Neville notes.

'Winning the FA Cup was a great achievement, and they can only push on from there.

'You really are talking about a side with great strength and ability.

'Portsmouth are very difficult to beat with their physical strength - and mixed in with that, they have some hugely skilful players.

'With the players they have, there is nothing to say they can't push on and challenge the top four.'


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