Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson have always been lauded for their development of youth football, but against Galatasaray, it was less a case of letting the youngsters shine, and more a case of letting the fringe players have a last chance of proving their worth to the club.
When Galatasaray fans crowded the airport upon Manchester United’s arrival, memories of the infamous ‘Welcome to Hell’ reception from the 90s sprung to mind – except that this time, the Red Devils had no need to be scared. With the group won and qualification to the knockout stages already assured, Sir Alex Ferguson brought an inexperienced side to the intimidating Turk Telecom Arena. Among those that participated were the promising teenager Nick Powell, left-back Alex Buttner, as well as a cameo for youth team product Joshua King.
The rest of the side was fortified by players who are on the fringes of the first team. Unfortunately, for the club, most of them showed exactly why they are on the fringes and not in contention for a regular start. Admittedly, the result was largely irrelevant for United, but even so, the game was a chance for a few reserve players to stake their claim for a place in the starting XI against QPR this weekend.
Michael Carrick’s deployment at the heart of the defence alongside the returning Phil Jones was one of the oddest selections by Ferguson on the night. With the result deemed inconsequential by the sheer number of first-teamers left in England, why then did a centre midfielder begin the game at centre-half when the likes of Scott Wooton were left on the bench? Surely, it would have been an excellent challenge for the youngster to face.
However, this tactical oddity aside, the greatest disappointment on the night for Reds fans had to be the introduction of perennial menace to ‘row z’, Federico ‘Kiko’ Macheda. The young Italian seems to have been sporadically wandering around the Old Trafford pitch for years now since his explosive debut against Aston Villa in 2009. When his name began to trend on Twitter during the length of the game, it could only be for two reasons: he was having an absolute blinder, or – more likely – he was having an absolute ‘mare. Alex Ferguson has rarely put a foot wrong at the club since his arrival in 1986, but one of his more baffling decisions is to still keep the misfiring Italian on the books. In the five seasons since his debut, including loans to Sampdoria and QPR, Macheda has amassed 55 appearances with a miserly return of only six goals. Six!
The lad makes Danny Welbeck look prolific. And yet, against Galatasaray, with the score 1-0 in the Turks’ favour, Macheda is thrown into the fray. Even if the game was considered a run-out for fringe players, why not introduce Larnell Cole, son of United legend, Andy? Macheda has repeatedly proved in his time with the club that he simply isn’t good enough to compete at the high standards that Manchester United expect of their players. With young footballers on the bench for their first European excursion, what better place to introduce them to the game than the Turk Telecom Arena? Granted, it would be a baptism of fire, but if they could cope with the intense heat and pressure that the Galatasaray fans provide, most other grounds in Europe would seem timid in comparison.
Although the contest was nullified somewhat by the United team selection, Galatasaray caused plenty of concern for the visitors: they peppered the Reds goal with efforts – drawing a string of fine saves from the deputising Anders Lindegaard – and generally supplied the lion’s share of action. Anderson and Fletcher were uninspiring in the middle of the park, continuing the unwelcome trend that Giggs and Carrick began against Norwich on Saturday, with a showing bereft of dynamism and energy, while up front Welbeck in particular was wasteful.
The showing was not only a little toothless, an aspect that can be forgiven concerning the circumstances, but more worrying was why Manchester United played a weaker side against Norwich on Saturday. Two weakened sides in a row, with QPR coming up on Sunday; there’s an argument to say the sheer amount of games the likes of van Persie, Rooney and Ferdinand are expected to play warrants them a rest every once in a while, but with Ferguson conceding defeat against Norwich, only to then concede another defeat with a weakened side against Galatasaray strikes a little of poor management.
There appeared only two genuinely positive aspects that emerged from the clash with the Turkish champions. The first was the continued impressiveness of teenage Nick Powell, who hit the bar early on with a thumping header and for the large part look assured on the ball, while the second was the commanding showing of Anders Lindegaard. The Danish ‘keeper has been unlucky of sorts in that he genuinely deserves a chance in a big game, but is hampered by a consensus that suggests De Gea needs only a little time to justify his huge transfer fee. Ferguson has attempted to give the Spaniard a run of games in order to establish himself as the no.1 at the club, but Lindegaard continues to impress in the games which he starts; handling, aerial prowess, positioning, distribution – all excellent.
Still, with a final game against Cluj coming up in the Champions League, it would be compelling to see what side Ferguson picks. Having been eliminated from the League Cup, the final group game could prove to be an excellent platform with which to test some of the youth products currently shining in the reserves: Manchester United fans would surely welcome the sight of Wooton, Tunnicliffe, King, Petrucci and Keane over the misfiring ventures of Macheda, Anderson and Welbeck.