The Scot has been ruled out for the season after undertaking surgery to resolve his chronic bowel disease, and whilst Fletcher has been a peripheral figure this season, United could well try and sign a replacement before the end of January.
Given that Alex Ferguson has rarely used Darren Fletcher in his starting eleven this season, the news that the Scottish midfielder has been ruled out for the season is hardly viewed as a catastrophe with regard to their chances of domestic and European success. However as the season moves inexorably towards squeaky bum time, United might just fancy a little extra steel in their midfield, especially when going away to places like the Bernabeu, and they should seriously consider bringing in a replacement for Fletcher in the next couple of weeks.
Their central midfielder has generally consisted of pairing Michael Carrick with one of Cleverley, Scholes and Anderson, and the form of Carrick has been such that it hasn't really mattered too much who has played next to him. Carrick might end his career as one of the most underrated players in English football, but in the second half of this season, it's unclear who will be his partner when United face the biggest tests.
So far Cleverley has been the man selected alongside Carrick for the most high profile matches. This has been successful, as aptly demonstrated by the way the two played away at Manchester City in the derby win earlier this season. However given the attacking nature of the rest of United's front six, there might be times where Ferguson will want a more traditional destroyer alongside Carrick, and with Fletcher out they don't have that option.
There are also plenty of players available at the moment that could fulfil this role for Manchester United. Moussa Sissoko springs to mind as a player who could be brought in cheaply - at around £2.5 million - because his contract expires in the summer, and who would give United greater physical presence in the midfield.
United have defied all expectations this season despite a relatively poor defensive record. Alex Ferguson has largely not bothered with a traditional defensive midfielder, and their success has vindicated that decision. However the biggest tests are yet to come, and having the option of a more defensive player in front of the defence is one that Ferguson might regret not having if he doesn't replace Fletcher this month.
image: © Andrea Sartorati