Analysis and Observations: Sir Alex’s rotation policy proves a success
Manchester United 4-1 Schalke 04
An eerie, subdued atmosphere accompanied Manchester United’s players when they came out to face Schalke in the second leg of this Champions League semi final and, despite a 2-0 aggregate lead, it remained that way for a while as United had not, initially, displayed the offensive, one-sided football we saw in Germany. But that changed – nerves, perhaps coming from, what looked, a rather peculiar line up where many fringe players featured, had soon transformed into jubilation. AfterValencia struck before the half hour, the game had become routine much like it had been in the first leg; three United goals followed in this rout.
Sir Alex rotation policy, masterstroke. Piers Morgan might have made fun of him a couple of times on Twitter, but even that abject creature would admit that Sir Alex Ferguson is amongst the finest to ever grace a dugout; not that his opinion would be valued. United’s rotation policy can sometimes backfire – the Everton semi-final in the FA Cup a few years ago is an example. But that wasn’t the case here as they displayed great authority and comfort on and off the ball to score four goals with a so-called, “under strength team.” All in all, it bodes well for Chelsea on Sunday as it not only gives United’s established crop a much-needed rest but stakes a claim for some of the other players who otherwise may not have been in contention. It says a lot about United’s strength in depth – spending in the summer might be necessary, but forking out for high-profile players maybe isn’t the way to go.
Altered central midfield excel. “Gibbo was class tonight, Scholes ran the show,” mused Wayne Rooney on Twitter. He praised Anderson, too, and for good reasons – Gibson had a majestic first half in which his well-timed through ball was converted by Valencia before he went on to score himself. Paul Scholes, nearing the end of his career, grafted and crafted as he has been doing forever. Anderson was hardly different, and his off the ball movement indicated that he can thrive as a forward player like he was in his early days at FC Porto – he scored two, but his contributions went beyond that. He was given more space by by a Schalke side with the knowledge they had to push forward and that allowed Anderson to picked out some delightful passes while his energy was also a constant threat.
Antonio Valencia, the all-rounder. Injuries might have blighted Valencia’s second season at the club but he has taken up his role on the right wing as if he left without a scratch. And here at Old Trafford, he was constantly scheming, stretching the play one one side and taking advantage of the space left by Escudero, the left back while defensively, he put in a tidy shift by constantly dropped deep to help out the back four. His goal came via a neat finish but, arguably, his contributions after his 26th minute goal were far more important as he was penetrative and demanding of the opposition full-backs; there is so much to admire about the Ecuadorian’s work ethic.
Collectively, again, no problems. It was very difficult single out any one individual as the outstanding performer – indeed, a reason for United’s ruthlessness might have been the quality, or lack of it, of the opposition. The back four and van der Sar, although rarely troubled, had overcome some early jitters (Jurado’s goal could have been avoided) and defended well, which was all the more encouraging as it was a case of three fairly inexperienced players brought in – without much football of late – for a European Cup Semi. Up front, Berbatov had formed an effective partnership with bothValencia and Nani, displaying great movement and helped bring others into play. It says a lot about Manchester United’s mentality and professionalism that Sir Alex Ferguson can effectively change a whole line-up and still maintain the right formula. Pep Guardiola must have looked on with some envy and some have argued a wasted trip. But he will himself know, that Ferguson’s teams always, maintain the same discipline and commitment and in that sense, will go away with plenty of thoughts from the match.