I was fucking fuming by the time I got to my seat ahead of the United vs Chelsea game this season. We were without Rio Ferdinand because of injury, but when Sir Alex Ferguson opted for Darren Fletcher and Ryan Giggs in the centre of midfield, dropping Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick to the pitch, I was furious. I really, really wanted to get a result against Chelsea. We’d beaten them in the European Cup final but we still hadn’t enjoyed our fair share of good results against them since Roman’s money, and that day was certainly the time to expose their weaknesses. How were we going to do that with Giggs and Fletcher facing the likes of the experienced Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack and Deco?
Still, like usual, the manager proved me and all the other doubters wrong. Fletcher and Giggs were brilliant, rendering Deco entirely redundant for the first half, forcing the manager to substitute him, in a game we won 3-0.
Fletcher has today confessed he was well aware that people would be shocked to see the midfield pairing, but explains why it worked so well.
“I knew I was playing against Chelsea for two weeks because when I didn’t play in those other games the manager was saying to me, ‘Think about Chelsea, focus on Chelsea, get ready for Chelsea’,” said Fletcher. “People thought he had gone mad that day but he knew what he was doing. I’ve played against Ryan in training and his skill as a central midfielder is that he turns the opposing central midfield player into a right back. Nobody in that position runs at you. A central midfielder gets the ball and looks to play it wide, or beyond to the striker. Ryan gets it and dribbles and that makes you uncomfortable, thinking: this isn’t what I’m supposed to do, this is not how I defend. That day my job was to cover for him and for Cristiano, to win tackles and get about the Chelsea midfield, not give them a minute. And it worked to perfection. Ryan controlled the game. We hurt them. It was the first time we had dominated Chelsea, a step forward for us.”