Blackburn Rovers's first victory at Old Trafford in over five years exposed Manchester United manager's prolonged complacency with rotation.
Tinkerbell's Terrible Tombola strikes. Injuries enforced the odd square peg in a round hole for Manchester United, but Sir Alex Ferguson used it as an excuse to play half the team out of position when it was wholly unnecessary. Fergie has never been pilloried for tinkering like Claudio Ranieri or Rafel Benítez because he's won things, but he hasn't f****d up as badly as they have via the mad method.
Ferguson strode out of the Old Trafford tunnel on his 70th birthday to be greeted by Fred the Red bearing a card and a clutter of choral singers harmoniously serenading him with a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’. He took his seat, the crowd applauded in a a moment that would have made Chairman Mao blush.
But it illustrated the brainwashing effect – for many thousands inside the stadium will not blame him for yesterday’s defeat. Nodding their heads, they will agree that the pitch was culpable and that the weather had caused havoc to United’s speed of play. Okay, United couldn’t pass the ball as quickly, but there wasn’t one team gracing the turf.
While Michael Carrick was always likely to step into defence, Antonio Valencia did not have to start at right-back, Danny Welbeck did not have to start on the wing, and Rafael Da Silva and Ji-Sung Park didn't have to be the midfield pairing. Another raffle draw selection. Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison, two tremendously gifted midfielders, are out of contract in the summer yet are hardly being swayed to stay by their fearful manager.
Rumours are abound that Wayne Rooney and Ferguson had had a row rather than him picking up a knock, hence his expulsion from the 18. The Croxteth Crier has every right to be dismayed when he has just scored four goals in three games only to be watching from his hospitality seat, but whether the whisper is true or not, it is certainly feasible.
Three seasons ago Rooney was demoted to the bench away at Fulham after an angry exchange with his manager the previous week after a 4-1 loss to Liverpool. Ferguson, ever the petulant, started Dimitar Berbatov up front on his own in a hapless half that saw United reduced to 10 men via Paul Scholes’s red card, then down 1-0 on the scoreline. Rooney arrived after half-time and the performance level was drastically enhanced.
Even this season’s derby despondence could have been avoided. Nemanja Vidic was fit but absent from the 18, let alone the 11. Why? A ‘niggle’, is usually the club brief. Nothing to do with defying your manager by playing for your country midweek then…
It's insulting to teams when you're that complacent with your selection, so when you say that you 'didn't expect that', you're prolonging the complacency.
David de Gea shouldn't have started against Blackburn even if United won 5-0. Rotating goalkeepers doesn't help the defence, irrespective of the changing personnel that has afflicted the Red Devils. The Spaniard will be a fantastic goalkeeper but he needs to be taken out of the firing line, an utter liability who has been at fault for close to a dozen goals this season – many costly. Anders Lindegaard on the other hand is confident and assured, and yet to concede in the Premier League.
Seriously, were both Rooney and Ryan Giggs unfit? Doubtful. Hell, Darron Gibson would've offered balance as opposed to two fish out of water who were gasping for breath from the off in midfield. Park has no guile yet was anointed the role of the playmaker. Jesus.
Predictably Anderson arrived at half-time and lo and behold United played well. Why? Probably something to do with all but one player not playing out of position. The Reds’ recent winning streak may have come against Wolves, QPR and Fulham, but the football was great again because there were only two changes in the starting line-up throughout those three games. Amazing what continuity does, eh Alex?
All this talk of resting players grates supporters because it lacks any credence. There were five days between United’s fixtures against Fulham and Wigan, yet Ferguson tinkered excessively. And the same amount of time elapsed between Wigan and yesterday, so he tinkered excessively. Indeed, United slaughtered the Latics 5-0 despite a baffling team, but Conor Sammon’s ridiculous dismissal was pivotal to the final result.
It's insulting to teams when you're that complacent with your selection, so when you say that you 'didn't expect that', you're prolonging the complacency. Blackburn were fortuitous with their goals, but there was always a chance that someone as savvy as Yakubu would expose Jones (centre-back is easily his weakest position) and Carrick, yet neither were afforded vigilant protection. Three more years? I may retire before that.
But in a surreal sense, it’s pleasing that Steve Kean oversaw such a surprisingly positive result. Away from Ewood’s Eeyores Blackburn have recorded a draw at Anfield and a win at Old Trafford when nobody gave them a chance. Maybe if the fickle fans who chant ‘Kean out’ after ten minutes supported their team, Rovers wouldn’t be in the mire that they are currently in.
He has been vilified and belittled in the media to excessive proportions, most likely because he replaced ‘Big’ Sam, who ostensibly oozes charisma, and received toxic abuse from the terraces. Yet he has maintained his dignity and even yesterday was restrained in victory. In Rovers’ three wins this season, Yakubu has scored eight goals. Guess who signed him?
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