Wes Brown, Rio Ferdinand, Ji-Sung Park, Darren Fletcher, Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney. Six of our eleven players last night were players you don’t bat an eye-lid at when you see in the starting line-up.
What about the others?
It’s not out of the ordinary to play Tomasz Kuszczak in the group stages of the Champions League, regardless of the opposition, and the decision to play him made no impact. His distribution can be pretty poor but like Sir Alex Ferguson probably imagined, he didn’t have much to do.
Darron Gibson stepped in for Paul Scholes in the centre of midfield, with Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves injured, and Anderson still returning from an injury he sustained in February, having yet to play for the first team again. So what other options did we have? We could have played Scholes, but given that he can’t play every game anymore and we’re days away from playing Liverpool, it was probably a good idea to give our veteran his first day off. Giggsy could have played in the centre of midfield, but that carries the same issues as Scholes. John O’Shea could have been there but I’m sure people would agree Gibson provides much more of a goal threat. This is the kid that scored against Bayern Munich in the European Cup quarter-final and who went on to create for himself pretty much all of our best efforts against Rangers.
Patrice Evra was subbed off with a knock against Everton so Fabio da Silva got his place. Our other alternative would again be O’Shea. Do we begrudge the manager letting our left back of the future get a game in the earliest stage of the Champions League? We were all calling for Rafael to get a game ahead of Neville against Everton at the weekend, so we can’t have it both ways.
Javier Hernandez scored in pretty much every game he played over the summer and needs to be brought in to the team. He needs experience of playing for United. Playing alongside Wayne Rooney is probably as good as it gets for any young striker, so what’s the problem? I don’t see any. I was happy to see our Chicharito get a start last night and give Dimitar Berbatov, one of our best players so far this season, a night off ahead of Liverpool.
Which leaves us with Chris Smalling. His name probably raised the most eye-brows ahead of kick-off but he went on to have a decent game. Again, Ferguson probably wasn’t expecting much of a threat and Smalling didn’t have a lot to do. Jonny Evans’ performance on Saturday didn’t do him any favours, but had Rio and Wes not got through their first game back unscathed, Evans and Vidic would be our only realistic possibilities for Liverpool.
Yes, had we played Nani, Scholes and Berbatov, we’d have had a bit more imagination and therefore a greater chance of winning. But the players we had on the pitch had more than enough ability to overcome that dreadful Rangers side, and they didn’t. We probably would have scored at least one goal with this season’s fantastic three playing, but the idea was to keep them rested for the much more important game at the weekend after a team with enough quality to overcome Rangers picked up a result.
I won’t criticise the manager’s team selection here, although I think it was worrying that no big changes were made to how we were playing. It became obvious early on they were going to stick all their players in their box at all times, yet United didn’t alter their approach. Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. I think we looked pretty insane last night but that was a fault with the tactics, not the selection.