I don’t think I was the only one worrying when I saw our team list for last night’s game. As much as I respect Fergie, his team selections have been our downfall at times, and after drawing with Chelsea, I could already imagine the newspaper headlines following the Everton game. Talk of how United had lost a psychological battle, how our squad wasn’t competent enough to compete with Chelsea’s, that Ferguson had lost the plot by dropping our two most experienced midfielder’s etc.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the likes of Fletcher, O’Shea, Richardson and Silvestre are decent enough squad players. I’m more than happy to see United go 2-0 up, and have faith that if Fergie brings them on to rest our more important players that we’ll see the day with three points added to our total. To see all of them start however does not fill me with confidence. We had experience in all of our players on the bench, but with Saha not fully fit, Scholes was the only attacking player we had available to change things if the game wasn’t going our way.
Richardson, O’Shea, Carrick and Fletcher is not a midfield that gets you excited. Richardson has had his head up his arse for too long, to the point he was relegated to the reserves. O’Shea has not been much if at all effective in the games he’s played so far this season. Carrick is still settling in, and despite picking up the Man of the Match award at the weekend, still has some learning to do. Fletcher has definitely improved this season, but has a long way to go before you could consider relying on him.
United won the game comfortably though, and could afford to take off first team players Ronaldo and Carrick to leave them fresh for our visit to the Riverside at the weekend. Ronaldo got the opening goal from 25 yards out, leaving him three goals away from the top scorer in the league. A well struck shot which crept in to the corner, which is likely to please him after his shocking empty net miss against Sheffield United not so long ago. Evra, who is currently keeping one of the best full backs in the World out of the team, played a blinder. He scored our second, after breaking in to the box from the left and nutmegging the keeper, and provided the ball for our third. John O’Shea took it well, scoring a good goal, which he will probably remember more fondly than his accidental goal he scored against Copenhagen earlier in the season.
Our skipper has said today that he believes we have a squad strong enough to win the league. So far, we have been relatively fortunate with injuries. There have been a few knocks to key players such as Ronaldo, Giggs and now Saha which has kept them out for a few games, as well as more long term injuries for Vidic, Solskajer and Park, but overall, we have done well. This has meant we have had a pretty steady first XI for the first time in seasons. In games where we haven’t had this first XI and played different formations, such as against Arsenal, Copenhagen, and Reading, we’ve paid the price.
“There has been a lot of talk about the squads of the teams at the top but we have shown we can handle some changes,” said Neville. “Players who deserved a chance came in and did a great job. They were the ones who carried us through the game because some of the lads who have been in the team all the time were quite sluggish, I know I was. But Darren helped a lot down my side, Kieran penetrated quite a bit down the left, John O’Shea did well in midfield and Mikael Silvestre looked as though he had never been away in defence. Considering those lads had not played a lot recently they did very well.”
Now, I’m not for one moment saying our squad is as rich in depth as Chelsea’s, and I’m not trying to claim because we beat a less than full strength Everton team with a few squad players in our lineup that we’ll have no problem winning the league, but it does bode well. It’s top half of the table teams like Everton we do need to see off, and it’s encouraging that we can do that with a team that isn’t our first choice.
Hargreaves is Ferguson’s main target when it comes to strengthening our squad, but the Bayern Munich man has suffered another injury which will keep him out for the rest of 2006. He has said he would like a move to the club in the past, and has again hinted that he could move in the January transfer window, saying “A thousand things happen in the winter. In life there are always surprises.” I would definitely welcome him with open arms in January.
We will also receive another boost when Park and Ole return to fitness. Park improved over last season, and could be a useful player for us this season. Ole’s form has surprised even the biggest of his fans, scoring six goals in the eleven games he’s played (five of them as starting appearances) and it will be great to provide Saha with some competition for his place.
Last night’s game doesn’t work as a dismissal to any United’s fans worries over our squad, but it certainly is an indicator of hope. It’s a long season yet, but it’s still reassuring to know that our bench players can do the business when called upon in the league. Roll on Middlesborough…
What do you think? Are United capable of competing at the top with our squad? Talk about this and the game at RepublikOfMancunia.org