The season before last, United had a dreadful season which was brought about because of several factors. Some of our players seemed to have lost their hunger, we had a ridiculous number of injuries, and Keano left us in the November. Following our week from hell, when we were battered 4-1 at the Riverside and lost 1-0 to Lille, Chelsea, the Champions, were on their way to Old Trafford. The last time the teams met, we gave them a Guard of Honour as they entered the pitch, and they brushed us aside 3-1. United fans could be forgiven for feeling more than a little anxious ahead of this meeting.
The atmosphere was incredible inside Old Trafford that day, with the crowd singing loud and proud before a ball have even been kicked, despite feeling an inevitable defeat was upon us. Van der Sar, O’Shea (filling in for Neville), Ferdinand, Brown, Silvestre (filling in for Heinze), Fletcher (filling in for Giggs), Smith (filling in for Keane), Scholes, Ronaldo, Rooney, van Nistelrooy was the lineup. Not too shabby, but nothing special either. I glanced at the subs bench. Howard, Richardson, Bardsley, Rossi, Park. Oh fuck. Park was the only player who I felt would be good enough to do anything of some note against this Chelsea side, that boasted a midfield of Duff, Lampard, Essien, Makelele and Joe Cole, but even then I was being somewhat optimistic and naive. We had no options. We had no one on the bench who was capable of turning a game around, and that was something I certainly believed we were going to need that day. Chelsea had Ashley Cole, Gudjohnsen, Wright-Phillips and Carvalho on the bench. OHH fuck. However, the rant from Keano which was never aired on MUTV seemed to do the trick, and the lads pulled a result out of the bag, with Smithy bossing the midfield, leaving Essien redundant and having to make way at half time. Park was the only player we brought on, after being bombarded by Chelsea in the second half. Ferguson just couldn’t rely on any of our bench players to come on to the field and do the job, meaning they were there just to make up numbers in the case of injury.
Two years later, United are the Champions, with Carrick the only signing made in the summer preceding our Championship winning season. This summer just gone though, Ferguson really dipped in to the transfer market, bringing in Nani, Hargreaves, Anderson and Tevez. Last season, we needed to win the title again. This season Fergie has bigger fish to fry so signed these players with the intention of building a European Cup winning squad.
Almost exactly two years to the day of the 1-0 victory over Chelsea, United travelled to the Emirates to play our new biggest title rivals, Arsenal. Before kick off, we would have gladly taken a point, however at the final whistle, the draw felt like a defeat. Our starting lineup had changed somewhat to the Chelsea game the season before last. Van der Sar, Brown (filling in for Neville), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Ronaldo, Anderson (filling in for Scholes), Hargreaves, Giggs, Tevez, Rooney. Our subs bench read Kuszczak, Nani, O’Shea, Carrick, Saha. It was Saha’s skill which gave Evra the ball to provide Ronaldo with a simple tap in for our second goal. Carrick continued on Anderson’s good work, leaving Fabregas with the quietest game he’d had all season, and showed his creativity in making intelligent passes forward.
Finally, like Chelsea of two seasons ago, we have a top quality bench. We have players who could walk in to most Premiership side’s first team working for their spot at United on the bench. We have players who can turn a match around, provide with us with the extra pace, skill and goals we were missing in our barren spell after winning the title in 2003. We have players with vast International and European experience ready to introduce when needed. I’d have to agree with the comments Ferguson made a few weeks back, declaring this his best squad ever. The talent we have available to us is incredible.
Still, even the 2-2 draw with Arsenal at the Emirates didn’t see us with our strongest squad available, and it begs the question, what would our team look like without the injuries? Against Chelsea two years ago, Ferguson had a difficult job choosing a subs bench. This season, he’s struggled to pick a bench for quite different reasons. We have so many good players. When our squad is fit, Foster, Brown, Nani, Anderson, Carrick, Saha, O’Shea, Fletcher and Park will all be fighting for the five spaces on the bench, with Pique and Simpson next in line.
Our squad is stronger than ever, which is why Rooney was bang on this week when he set our target as the League and European Cup double.
The future is definitely bright with just an array of talent on our books, but who do you want to see on our bench?