ALEX FERGUSON hailed Patrice Evra as “an absolute soldier” — after unveiling the player bought to replace him.

Evra’s been a soldier but he’s in his 30s now — Fergie

French left-back Evra has been a defensive rock during his six years at Old Trafford but Fergie yesterday warned new £4million signing Alexander Buttner is after his place.

The United boss said: “We have to protect the future. That is sensible. Evra is 31 and Alex comes to challenge that position.

“But nobody has played more games than Evra over the last five years. He has played with injuries — he has guts.

“He has been up and down that touchline for five years. It’s 240 games he has played. Patrice has been an absolute soldier.”

Evra has made 291 appearances in the last six years following his £5.5m move from Monaco.

But Fergie is now ready to start the changing of the guard with Dutch left-back Buttner.

The 23-year-old arrived from Vitesse Arnhem and now joins Shinji Kagawa, Nick Powell, Angelo Henriquez and Robin van Persie as the new additions to the United squad.

Ferguson added: “We’ve been monitoring Alex for a while. He’s a straight-forward attacking, quick, full-back. He will be a terrific addition to us.

“We have to protect the future. That is sensible. Evra is 31 and Alex comes now to challenge that position.”

While champions Manchester City are still desperately trying to boost their squad after the addition of only Jack Rodwell, Ferguson insists his spending is now done.

Van Persie is the most high profile of the new signings.

But his appearance as a substitute on Monday night at Goodison Park failed to turn the tide as United got off to a disappointing start in a 1-0 defeat at Everton.

Now the former Arsenal skipper is set to make his home debut against Fulham today from the start — and Ferguson is hoping that will spark his team’s season into life.

The Old Trafford chief said: “I’m excited myself. He’s a very, very good player and he brings a maturity to us up front.

“I am looking forward to starting him… when he starts.

“It’s important that he brings something to the team.

“His goal record last year was fantastic. I hope he can do this for us and give us more of an edge.”

Ferguson is also looking for Wayne Rooney to continue his excellent scoring form from last season and see Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez also do their bit in his latest fab four frontline.

He added: “Wayne got 30-something last season and has been improving on his goalscoring for the last two or three years.

“We need a contribution from all the strikers. Chicharito is capable and Danny gives us something different.

“We have fantastic options — and that’s part of the attraction.”

While United suffered at Everton, Fulham had earlier savoured an incredible opening-day 5-0 destruction of Norwich at Craven Cottage and Martin Jol’s men will be a test today.

Ferguson said: “I went to see Fulham on Saturday, they played very well. The club has grown tremendously since Roy Hodgson got them to the Europa League final.

“The place is buzzing, a full house every week, good atmosphere. Their home record is terrific and they’ve got a lot of experienced players — six players over 30.

“It won’t be an easy game but we’re at home and we have to make an impact quickly after losing Monday night and we expect that.”

The signing of Buttner will boost defensive options, which were badly hit by injuries over the last year.

Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Rio Ferdinand are all still sidelined.

Ferguson even joked he would have to haul some of the old guard out of retirement. He said: “I’ve recalled Bruce and Pallister! Their terms are ridiculous!”

Ferguson had to deploy Michael Carrick as a makeshift centre-half at Goodison on Monday night, something he admits Everton boss David Moyes exploited.

He added: “Everton was a hard game. Their tactics made it hard. Fellaini played against Carrick all night. That was a good ploy.”

One silver lining from the defeat at Everton was the performance of £12m buy Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund and Ferguson is convinced the midfielder will help with the goals tally as well.

Ferguson said: “Shinji was fantastic on Monday, he played very well.

“He is a terrific pro, a good footballer, good with two feet, good balance and we’re very happy with him.

“His goalscoring record is better than most players in that position. His last two years at Dortmund showed that.

“I think that will come for us. He will also create chances as he did on Monday. That shows he has the vision and passing ability to open up defences.”