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Ferguson's choice exposes Champions League flaws

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Phil McNulty | 07:30 UK time, Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Old Trafford

Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to send out Manchester United's Carling Cup team in Champions League clothing was a miscalculation - and a sad reflection on European football's flagship club tournament.

Ferguson's willingess to make 10 changes to the line-up that drew at Everton - and with both eyes seemingly fixed on Sunday's Premier League meeting with Liverpool - gave fresh impetus to the belief that the Champions League group phase is now more about finance than serious footballing competition. And far too predictable by half.

It is one thing to play fast and loose with a rotation policy in the Carling Cup, quite another to conduct experiments in Europe's elite competition.

Ferguson's mass shuffling of United's resources also allowed Rangers, and his old friend and former assistant Walter Smith, to take all the pride and honours from a turgid encounter at Old Trafford.

Ferguson saw fit to remove goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Nani, Paul Scholes and Dimitar Berbatov from his squad entirely - and reduce Ryan Giggs to the role of substitute.

True, Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney returned but, by any reckoning, this was a patchy United line-up. And Ferguson paid the price by watching his side bang their heads against a brick wall for 90 minutes in this goalless draw.

naismithap595.jpgSteven Naismith holds off Wayne Rooney. Photo: AP

He even came close to confessing the error of his ways by admitting that United's endless journey into the cul-de-sac of the Rangers rearguard cried out for the subtle touches of this season's revitalised Berbatov. Ferguson could have mentioned the invention and guile of the absent Scholes in the same breath.

Of course, the outcome is hardly fatal to United's chances of progressing into the knockout phase. In all probability, they will reach that target in comfort, which increases the growing sense that this particular Champions League format is flawed and requires fresh examination.

Too often group games are simply skirmishes and formalities before the serious business begins in the knockout games. The cutting edge of competition is too often absent, which may result in more coaches following Ferguson's lead, safe in the knowledge there is time to recover from any unexpected slips.

This meeting between Manchester United and the champions of Scotland was not even a sell-out. Almost unthinkable in days gone by.

Ferguson, to his credit, refused all opportunities to criticise the lovingly-crafted negativity that Smith and his Rangers side brought to Old Trafford. And he was right to do so.

Even the atmosphere was subdued, shaped from the opening moments by the certain knowledge that a war of attrition was about to develop into a full-scale game of attack against defence for 74,000 observers.

Smith almost apologised for his team's approach, blaming the huge financial disparity between clubs competing in the Champions League for a damage limitation - in this instance, damage avoidance - approach.

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"Scottish teams are not in the position we were once in, where we could compete to sign the best players in the British Isles, so we have to find a way to nullify the opposition as best as we can," he explained.

"It's down to a manager to try to find a way. Unfortunately, in any walk of life it is easier to stop someone doing something than it is to actually create it.

"We don't feel proud of the fact that we are doing it but there is nothing else left for us."

This was one of the few things Smith got wrong. He had every right to feel proud of his players - the Rangers fans who applauded each block and tackle certainly did.

David Weir and Madjid Bougherra were magnificent in defence, while every Rangers man carried out Smith's orders with such diligence that goalkeeper Allan McGregor was almost untroubled in the face of ceaseless United possession. It was a disciplined performance, too, with only 11 fouls committed.

And rarely can a striker have travelled so far in a match without ever having the ball as Kenny Miller, isolated from his colleagues throughout but given a standing ovation from those gathered in Old Trafford's East Stand simply for running himself to a standstill.

Ferguson insisted Rangers will find it more difficult to take this approach at Ibrox - but he may also feel the need to select a better Manchester United side to combat them.

United's night of labour and frustration was compounded by the dreadful injury to Antonio Valencia, who fractured his ankle in an innocuous collision with Kirk Broadfoot and will miss the rest of the season.

united595ap.jpgUnited are left to reflect on a missed opportunity. Photo: AP

Ferdinand's return to senior action after the knee injury that ended his World Cup before it began amounted to little more than a toning up exercise, while the recalled Rooney cut a listless figure and was as bereft of ideas as the rest of his United colleagues by the time the curtain came down.

For Rangers, this was night that gave them honour. The purists may sniff, Lionel Messi's "anti-football" jibes may be revisited by some in search of cheap shots - but this was a job wonderfully done and orchestrated by a manager who manipulated his resources better than his opposite number.

The only serious pressure Ferguson was able to apply on Rangers was via a public pre-order, delivered in his programme notes, for coach Ian Durrant to produce a bottle of Australia's finest Penfolds Grange wine in time for the return meeting at Ibrox.

Smith and his men deserved a toast on Tuesday - but there was also a warning for Uefa that the Champions League champagne may be in danger of losing some of its sparkle.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Hats off to Rangers but I disagree with your analysis. This was not a Carling cup team, this was as Ferguson stated pretty much the team that beat Chelsea in the Community Shield. As Fergson said the backs and midfielders did their job.
    I saw his decision not as disrespect but as a massive shake up of his squad after Saturdays debacle. The back four that let in 2 goals in 'Fergie time' were no where to be seen. They were in fact dropped. The midfield? You are waxing lyrical about old man scholes, he can't play every game. Valencia may have brought something eventually but now we are almost in a crisis. Valencia Hargreaves out. Carrick not on the ball, who knows if the players coming back from injury will be match fit. Chicarito doesn't cut the mustard for me, not last night anyway. United really need to win at the weekend, and win well to avoid any pressure talk of a meltdown.

  • Comment number 2.

    I would have to say, despite a successful team having many more games these days, I still don't understand why a manager can't play his best 11 every game, and replace them when they get injured or tired. A team that plays together clicks together.

  • Comment number 3.

    "This was one of the few things Smith got wrong. He had every right to feel proud of his players - the Rangers fans who applauded each block and tackle certainly did" is taken slightly out of context - Walter said in that interview that he was very proud of the way his players performed, just that adopting negative tactics wasn't anything to be proud of.

  • Comment number 4.

    #1 Doesn't matter if it's the same team that beat Chelsea..point is Ferguson played a CC team then too.

    Personally I think that Man Utd underestimated thier opposition. They don't play until Sunday so why all the changes. They could have won the game, after all they can beat pretty much every team on the planet on thier day (barring Barcelona).

    Respect goes to Smith and Rangers, saw that they needed to batten down the hatches and defend, defend, deend and to their credit they did exactly that.

    Fair play.

    One question that begs an answer is: Can Rangers play like that away at Valencia? Not so sure...

  • Comment number 5.

    It was obvious to anone, as soon as the draw was announced, that Rangers would come to defend, and so it turned out.

    Rangers came to do a job, and they did it superbly, so to them the draw will feel like a win. As a Manchester United fan, to me it feels like a loss.

    The bigger loss was the loss of Valencia for the season !

    I do not believe that Berbatov or Scholes would have made the difference, although i was not totally satisfied that the team on the pitch did everything they could possibly have done. Gibson impressed me, and I was pleased to see that he was wiling to try shots from range when he realised that balls into congested box were not working. At least one of his few attempts came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock.

    If ever a game cried out for a goal, it was this one. If Gibsons first half shot had wizzed 2 inches past the other side of the post, the story would have been much different. Rangers would have been forced to ope thing s up to try salvage a point.

    That said, however, later in the 2nd half Rangers did occassionally break forward and leave gaps. This was where I was disatisfied with our performance. We rebuffed all the Rangers "attacks" easily enough, but then dilly dallied on the ball, giving them time to get 9 players behind the ball again. Quick incisive counters may have taken advantage of the few small spaces which had opened up.

    I give Rangers credit for doing a superb job of defending, rather than totally hammering the United team on the pitch for failing to break them down. Not nice to watch, but Rangers did what they felt they needed to do. It does, however, prove my assetion that Scottish football is a bit of a joke, when their league champions feel the need to play this way. Could anyone imagine United, Chelsea or Arsenal coming up against Barca, Real Madrid or Inter in the group stages and playing in this manner?

    Rio was played as a reintroduction in a game Ferguson knew he would have little to do ..... and he still managed to make his usual sily mistake !

    I think giving Berbatov a rest was a good thing, with Liverpool up this weekend. This game would only have frustrated him, and maybe affected his confidence.

    Hernanez seems a capable player to me, and I look forward to seeing him in a more open game, as he is unlikely to ever achieve much in this type of game.

    I do not have a major issue with SAF's changes. The reason we have a squad of this size is to be able to make chages. This was a game we would never lose, but also one we were unlikely to win, so probably the best opportunity to rest the "stars" and give the others some time on the pitch.

  • Comment number 6.

    I don't think it is a case of Man Utd playing poorly but rather that Rangers played well. Yes selection was always going to be an issue despite the result but we have to give the Rangers team credit for holding out. I think that Berbatov and Nani would have brought something different to the team but there was enough talent playing to get the job done. Honestly I don't think any Utd player had a bad game (others are welcome to disagree). Similar tactics were used when North Korea frustrated Brazil in the World Cup and even Barcalona with all their attacking flair were nullified by a Mourinho inspired Inter last season. Such tactics are a part of the game unfortunately.

  • Comment number 7.

    Rangers deserve credit for a result which belies the fact that they are operating on a budget more akin to a League One club than a Premier League club, let alone one of the Premier League's big four. The anti-football argument is moot to anyone but the frustrated hosts. From any other perspective, there is no glory to be had in attacking at Old Trafford only to succumb "gloriously", as they inevitably would, to a Man Utd team which, even if it was the second string, still comprised players of infinitely greater skill and value to those playing in blue. The prize money for a draw is worth infinitely more to Rangers than it is to Manchester United and represents an significantly greater proportion of their annual income overall than it does to any club operating in England's top flight. Possibly the best example of the chasm between both teams lies in the fact that Manchester United played a player in defence for whom they paid a sum which is almost as much as Rangers all-time record signing and worth more than all of Rangers's signings in the past four years. Sadly, the player in question was Chris Smalling, not Rio Ferdinand, which sort of underlines how impressive the result was from a Rangers perspective.

  • Comment number 8.

    I largely agree with collie21's sentiments. There is a flaw in this piece, viz. MUFC played a "Carling Cup" squad instead of a first XI kind of team, which ties very well with flaw two, this one against Walter Smith. Never apologize "on behalf" of your team. It's unnecessary and undermining their confidence.

    No manager must ever throw in the towel, and certainly not in advance! You only play the opponent before you, with the squad you have. After all, you'll never kill a snake at hand with a far off stick, will you?

    That said, the predictability of the UEFA CL group stage is near certain. You can always tell who the top dogs are and almost how they'll end up sharing out the group spoils among them. This is not to say there are no incidents like 2006 when Benfica helped oust the Reds or when MUFC failed to make it out of the group stage.

    Small clubs like Braga today, just like Cluj, Deportivo la Coruna, Lille in the past, can shine only to fizzle out once the knockouts begin. There is little variance to this theme, the most recent being an all underdog final in 2004 between Porto and Monaco.

    A shakeup's needed here by UEFA. Fielding a "weakened" team in order to save one's first XI for an upcoming fixture, though controversial, is an increasing necessity in the modern game. I am no fan of United but might not blame SAF necessarily for this. Many tournaments necessitate rotation even in squads as big as United's. The modern game has also boiled down to mathematics. It could be SAF didn't regard yesterday's game as life and death, or able to prevent a MUFC exit from the CL. His decision therefore seems to have been vindicated, the loss of Valencia notwithstanding.

    I believe if financial regulation as envisioned by Platini and UEFA is effected, it might go a long way to equalizing club soccer's playing field, and might ensure more balanced European competitions, plus creating fines for those that seem to field weakened teams.

    Perhaps it's time almost all tournaments borrowed from the FA Cup's policy of knockouts. This will make team tactics and squad selections far more serious because there'll be reduced chances of earning replays that can bail out a team. the flip side of course might be proliferation of negative, parking the bus kind of tactics. This will in turn bring about increased viewership and lead to increased interest in this religiously beloved beautiful game.

  • Comment number 9.

    Has somebody photoshopped a white circle into that picture of Chicarito on his knees? Or is he genuinely summoning some kind of supernatural force?

    Fair play to Rangers, we'll see you in Glasgow!

  • Comment number 10.

    why would you have every right to feel proud of that performance? Sticking 10 men behind the ball is not really heroic stuff.

    What did Rangers have to lose? Are they just gonna keep doing this until they limp out of the competition? Yeah that'll inspire a new generation of scottish footballers.

    They haven't won a champions league game for 3 years, easy to see why.

  • Comment number 11.

    Fergie made a big donation to Scottish football last night by helping gift Rangers that crucial point..hope it proves decisive to both sides after all six matches are played. Sir Alex gambled on the rest of the group being a stroll, but home games are vital in the CL. Maybe United couldn't afford the CL win bonuses for their big stars? Huge credit to Rangers though as they got exactly what they set out to achieve and you can't argue with that.

    #1 Doubt I'm the only one in thinking the Community Shield is even more pointless than the Carling Cup nowadays as proved by United's team selection that day too? A friendly in the U.S. seemed more important to them now.

  • Comment number 12.

    I wasnt too happy about Fergies approach to the game really but i wasnt at all surprised about Rangers. Theyve played that way against every team outwith the SPL and against Celtic on a few occasions, i dont buy the excuse about money as other so called small team go out an have a go in the CL an in many instances win by doing so. Think in a way both teams should take a look at themselves.

  • Comment number 13.

    This is a complete non story. Ferguson frequently rotates his squad, he probably feels that with a typically generous Man Utd Champions League Group, that he can afford to rest some players. Besides it was a strong team despite only having the three +£20 million pound signings in it! (Ferdinand, Rooney and Valencia.)

    Perhaps in a way this games biggest talking point is that it highlighted the financial disparity between the haves and have nots which Platini is so galantly trying to rectify.

    As a Liverpool fan I would have liked to have seen a stronger line up (with this Sundays game in mind) but I suspect Roy Hodgson will do a similar thing on Thursday. Congratulations to Rangers, it is not pretty, but you have to admire the organisation.

    Best wishes to Valencia for a complete and quick recovery.

  • Comment number 14.

    The game, surely the most tedious for twenty years, is just another example of how the rivers of cash have swamped the game. All but a handful of teams can now 'play' a game of football. They are the teams with the greatest resources. Managers are now forced into adopting the 'anti' football tactic because of the lack of alternatives. Great result for Rangers but who wants to watch it?

  • Comment number 15.

    Grandmother and me

    A good advice to all Bursa’s and Valencia’s fan:
    TRY TO QUALIFY WITHIN NOVEMBER 2010 24TH (20:45 Rangers – Man U), ‘cause I’ve heard Sir A. Ferguson (if only qualified) may ask my granny and me to join the XI….

    Have a nice CHL!

  • Comment number 16.

    Maybe ferguson was helping an old friend

  • Comment number 17.

    I think Alex Ferguson has done Rangers a massive favour by playing a much weakened side. This point away from home for Rangers could be the difference between staying in Europe and being eliminated.

    Ferguson obviously has huge ties with Rangers as he played with them and also worked with Smith on a number of occasions. Wwhen Celtic where in the same group (twice) he always played his strongest team.

    Last season Wolves where fined by the FA for making 10 changes against Man Utd so maybe UEFA should investigate this similar situation.

  • Comment number 18.

    Well done Walter and you are right to praise the Rangers performance Phil and well done for that. Wily old Walter does it again.

    I'm glad you didn't do that superior posturing about lesser quality teams coming to OT to defend (Rangers squad is only worth about £25m): as if Rangers should have came and played an open game that would suit their opposition. As we saw with Inter against Barca last year defending is an art too and it was a stunningly efficient performance by Rangers who it has to be said were not under any desperate goaline pressure during the game. Utd's lack of width was the key and much of the threat came from Gibson's shooting but McGregor was rarely troubled. Even the bigger players in ManU were anonymous for much of the match.

    As a Celtic fan I wish my team could go and deliver that and then they might still be in Europe.

    Is it a disater for ManU? They will still qualify from this group quite easily.

    For me though the most telling part of the interview with Smith was the following:
    "Uefa are allowing a situation to develop that is wrong. Bigger clubs in smaller countries are being drastically affected by the lack of finance. It is difficult to compete. There has to be more opportunity. It's not just Scotland, but elsewhere, too..In Holland, Portugal and other countries, they are all suffering badly"

    He is absolutely right. If the super-rich (or super-indebted) want to play open football and their fans want to see more attractive games then give more opportunties to clubs in countries outwith the Big 5 to allow them to compete. The current situation is just untenable over the longer-term.

  • Comment number 19.

    Chelsea fan here,

    I thought Utd would have won this game quite easily. I thought the gulf in class would have been to large that despite the wholesale changes Utd would knock a few past them. I admit that I underestimated Rangers but at the same time, I think that had Utd scored early on they would have went on to score a few more. Rangers could not have afforded to chase the game and so their resolute defence is to be commended.

    The worrying thing for Utd fans (good for Chelsea fans though ;)) is that Utd seemed bereft of any real creativity. They were much to reliant on an at-the-minute unreliable Rooney.
    Gibson is no replacement for Scholes as of yet and seems to have a shoot on sight policy.
    Smalling although rarely tested, seems capable of gifting a penalty to the opposition and is likely to be run ragged against greater opposition.
    I think they are lacking quality on the bench, something that only really became evident to me in the last few weeks. If they get a few injuries I think they could struggle to challenge for the title more so than any of the other challengers.
    Commiserations on losing Valencia. I like his attitude, so much so that he made it into my fantasy football team!

    I'm thinking the game on Sunday with Liverpool will be a draw, followed by 3 points for Chelsea against Blackpool (fingers crossed!)

    Predictions for that game Phil?

  • Comment number 20.

    To HotdogSalesman...agree with some of your points but not with others. In full agreement about the fact that Rangers' tactics were predictable. Walter Smith has done this in Europe before and I, for one, will not criticise him for it. It is a realistic approach and one that got them to a Uefa Cup final and also a point last night.

    Where I beg to differ is when you say: "I do not believe that Berbatov or Scholes would have made the difference."

    You add: "If ever a game cried out for a goal, it was this one." And for me the presence of Berbatov and Scholes, even on the bench, could have provided the guile to create one.

    Spot on about Valencia as well. A real blow for the player and United and always terrible to see things like that.

    I do not believe Ferguson would under-estimate Rangers, but I think he got his selection wrong last night.

    Keep all the opinions coming. What about my scepticism about the Champions League group stage? What are your views on that?

  • Comment number 21.

    Hi Phil,

    As a teddy bear is saddens me when we play like that but we have little option. We are outgunned. If Rangers had access to the TV Manu do then we could plsy different against them.

    I vagualy rememeber Manu doing such a 'containing job' with a team containing Ronaldo and rooney on Barcelona in a semi a couple of years ago. They to were outgunned against messi/iniesta/xavi etc. You do what you have to do.

    As for the staleness of the group stages, i think an open draw would make it far more exciting. Imagine a group with Barca/Inter/Bayern/Manu all together. Id watch!

  • Comment number 22.

    RE 5
    "Could anyone imagine United, Chelsea or Arsenal coming up against Barca, Real Madrid or Inter in the group stages and playing in this manner?"
    Hardly a fair comparison, are you saying Rangers have the same resources as the above mentioned teams? No one up here thinks that the SPL even comes close the the EPL.
    Fairer comparison would be asking if the Dutch, Greek, or Turkish champions would turm up at Old Trafford and play the same way.
    Time will tell how the Turkish Champions set up their team at OT.

  • Comment number 23.

    It does, however, prove my assetion that Scottish football is a bit of a joke, when their league champions feel the need to play this way. Could anyone imagine United, Chelsea or Arsenal coming up against Barca, Real Madrid or Inter in the group stages and playing in this manner?
    Well Inter took care of Barca last year with much less ease than Rangers last night nobody said that Italian football was a joke! I watch EPL teams come to OT and do the same thing. Does that mean that many of the English teams are also a joke?

    On the contrary the media are usually full of praise for good defensive performances when teams get results. Do you really believe that teams should simply turn up and play the game that you think they should play? If so I would suggest you are suffering from a bad case of big team arrogance and you really need to watch more football in the real world outside of OT.

  • Comment number 24.

    Well I have to agree to differ with you about the selection from the point of view, the 11 that played should be capable. But agree that other players would have made a difference. However the group stages? Well the group stages are just that, look at the world cup past, at the group stages everyone was saying BORING! I quite enjoyed the world cup myself. Yes group stages can be predictable, but thats why they are fun. When things go wrong. IF it was so predictable the bookies wouldn't take a bet would they? Last years final was supposed to be Barca United, neither team got there. The competition has merit. Do we about group formats now because of predictability? Lets just pull names from a hat in the Premiership too. A league format is just that. The first round of games will always be either cagey affairs or one sided. The real football to watch starts in the last 16.

  • Comment number 25.

    Another Man Yoo article.....
    Fergies definitely not 'reclaiming' it this year

  • Comment number 26.

    İf Walter Smith is proud of what his team did last night the game is seriously flawed,as an entertainment spectacle it was a disgrace how anybody can justify playing the game without even any attempt to even try and score beggars belief Man Utd were there for the taking last night struggling as though they had never played together before and yet you get opposition who does'nt even try to take advantage.The game is supposed to be entertainig not drivel and the supporters who pay good money deserve better, if that's the state of Scottish football it's fallen into a really sad decline and should be treated by such, no automatic entry into Europes premier cup competition as for joining the E.P.L.they would be the championship.Lionel Messi was spot on anti football at it's best lovingly crafted negativity Phil whatever happened to the beautiful game.

  • Comment number 27.

    Going slightly off topic, the moment of decline of an empire is always best viewed in hindsight. In a few years time, will people look at Aug/Sep 2010 as the moment that marked the decline of SAF?

    It's happened before that men who have created hugely successful empires go on too long and tarnish their reputation with incrasingly incorrect decisions before the board bite the bullet and execute the coup de grace (excuse the mixed metaphor!): in football, Revie at Leeds, Busby at Man U and in other sports...Tom Landry at the Dallas Cowboys, Boycott at Yorkshire.

    The evidence is piling up...risky purchases in the summer, last minute give aways at Fulham and Everton. Odd substitutions leading to the Everton fiasco, wimping out of playing Rooney at Goodison, and then last night's peculiar team...putting pressure on yourself to have to at least win one away.

    Perhaps you read it hear first...sometime in November, with the team several points off the top and CL progression in the balance, SAF is asked to spend more time on the racecourse and golf course. Fresh from a couple of months off and a bit of punditry..O'Neill for O'ld Trafford by Xmas!!

  • Comment number 28.

    So when a Premier League team goes to Old Trafford to defend they are accused of "parking the bus" and playing anti-football, but when Rangers do exactly the same thing it is hailed as a fantastic defensive display.

    I am curious though, did you really buy into all of the Champion's League guff, nobody I know cares one little bit about the group stages (as long as they get through) it's only ever really become exiting in the knock-out phases, that's what happens when you seed teams for a multi-league format.

  • Comment number 29.


    Nothing to do with football, but everything to do with the English language:
    'Turgid' does not mean boring, lacking interest or dreary.
    It is defined as 'Excessively ornate or complex in style or language'
    So the game was, in fact, the exact opposite of turgid

  • Comment number 30.

    Phil McNulty writes "Ferguson's choice exposes Champions League Flaws"

    He goes on:

    "Ferguson's willingess to make 10 changes to the line-up that drew at Everton - and with both eyes seemingly fixed on Sunday's Premier League meeting with Liverpool - gave fresh impetus to the belief that the Champions League group phase is now more about finance than serious footballing competition. And far too predictable by half."

    Back in December 2009, after a Wolves team lost 3-0 at Old Trafford, McNulty wrote about McCarthy's integrity and how damaging a concession of defeat could be to the Premier League as a competition.

    Notice the difference? McCarthy's team selection questioned the Premier League. Ferguson's team selection was a result of an already questionable Champions League. Not sure about that, Phil. I see similarities all the way through the 2 competitions. There are the haves, and the have nots.

    McNulty, 17th Dec 2009: "The judgement on McCarthy's actions will start when Burnley come to town and the final reckoning will follow when Wolves either stay up or go down at the end of the season. One thing is for sure: if Wolves do not beat Burnley he will have some explaining to do."

    Didn't work out too bad did it?

    Nowhere in todays article does he pose the threat to Ferguson that if his team fails to beat Liverpool on Sunday, he will have some answering to do. Throughout the article, he seems embarrassed to even broach the subject of questioning the great man's judgement.

    The point you're missing, Phil, is they amount to the same thing. McCarthy and Ferguson both had an eye on the next fixture, and both put out a team that they thought would have as much chance of winning as their 'first choice side'.

    Fergie and the BBC aren't exactly the best of friends, so why dodge the issue? Be firm in your convictions Mr McNulty, if you truly believe you should always play your strongest 11. You kicked up such a fuss last time, it would be a shame to abandon your beliefs now...

  • Comment number 31.

    I cannot believe the praise being directed towards Rangers after last night. That was disgusting to watch and I feel someone should be looking for Ferguson to answer why he not only fielded a weakened team, but also instructed his team not to put any pressure on the opposition. Rangers as usual, had their 25 men behind the ball scenario going on, however it CAN be broken down. Allan McGregor had his easiest shift ever last night between the sticks, because Ferguson didn't send his side out to win. Outrageous, and a disgrace to the "sport" we call football.

  • Comment number 32.

    Lets put this so called Carling Cup team to bed shall we:

    Kuszack: yes, he is a reserve
    Brown: our RB who played in the Champions League Final
    Rio: captain of England
    Smalling: reserve
    Fabio: good back up, but defense not important when Rangers play 0 up front
    Valencia: First choice RM
    Fletcher: First choice DM
    Gibson: reserve
    Park: always plays the big games
    Rooney: our main striker
    Hernandez: hardly a reserve is he

    We drew 0-0, big deal. I'd rather have a fresh Berbatov, Scholes and Nani against Liverpool

  • Comment number 33.

    I'ts about time younger players were involved in games like this, you have to give them the experience and hope that they step up and become the world class players of tommorrow.

    Fergie may have taken a gamble but Giggs, Scholes etc will not last forever.

  • Comment number 34.

    Mr McNulty, nearly all of your blogs seem to be about Man Utd and Ferguson, and you always seem to have some opinion which has been formed with the benefit of hindsight once a game has been played.

    Are Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown, Park Ji-Sung, Darren Fletcher, Luis Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney reserve players? No. Ferguson spent almost £20m on Chris Smalling and Javier Hernandez in the summer. In fact if you look at the cost of the team that Ferguson played, it dwarfs the cost of the Rangers team.

    Man Utd just couldn't find that moment of brilliance, the breakthrough that would have got them the 3 points. Give credit to Rangers for their defensive display, just as Everton should have got credit for their comeback at the weekend. Big four teams in the Premiership get credit for comebacks and solid defensive displays away from home in Europe. Why aren't Everton and Rangers given credit for their performances? Just because you want to have another pop at Ferguson?

    Also, its laughable that the media and some people say that United missed players like Nani and Berbatov, and Scholes when they've spent many a blog telling us that Nani and Berbatov have been expensive flops and Scholes is old and needs replacing. So they're vital players now, are they? Make your minds up.

  • Comment number 35.

    You're kidding?

    A "journalist" extending into hyperbole using the benefit of hindsight as the only supporting evidence for his doomsday forecast?

    You do surprise me...

    Fiver says you had another article all prepared with the title "Ferguson the rotation genius" if the tactic had worked...

  • Comment number 36.

    In 3 games now Utd have looked a bit average to me. Vs fulham they were slapdash. Vs Everton the same and last night against a lacklustre 10 defenders they couldnt break through. I doubt very much they will go that far. Berbatov and scholes have been their best players so far. One is 35 and cant play every game and the other will not win you a league. I think fergies time will come to an end after next season and im very surprised that they didnt go for van der vaart. If the future is Gibson, fletcher,nani,Obertan and hernandez i dont see them usurping chelsea anytime soon.

  • Comment number 37.

    I feel pretty comfortable about Fergie's selection last night. It was a strong side full of international players who needed 90 minutes under their belts, the rested players will be fresh for the weekend, and 0-0 is not a disaster at this stage of the competition.

    Fergie took a gamble. It may not have come off spectacularly, but neither did we loose anything we can't regain. Perhaps Phil is right about it being an indictment of the the competition.

  • Comment number 38.

    To those writing Ol' Purplenose off, as a Leeds fan I've been trying to do that for the past twenty years and each time he bounces back, so I wouldn't sound the death knell just yet. That being said, and to totally contradict myself, there is something different about Man U now. Uncharacteristically dropping points, not killing teams off and their squad seems wafer-thin compared to years gone by. No matter what the squad selection last night, a Man U home win would have been on every betslip up and down the land and yet, for once, it didn't materialise. Of course they have had bad results before, but they somehow seem far more fallible now.

    All credit to Rangers. Defensive (I loathe to call it "negative" because it's just another part of the game) tactics have been in football since year dot, why the focus now? Because of a bitter Lionel Messi potshot? The defenders did their job, the opposing attack did not.

  • Comment number 39.

    #26 "İf Walter Smith is proud of what his team did last night the game is seriously flawed,as an entertainment spectacle it was a disgrace how anybody can justify playing the game without even any attempt to even try and score beggars belief " - it's not entertainment any more, all clubs are runs as businesses. The potential revenue to be earned by staying in Europe for a club heavily in debt could be priceless. To try and secure the revenue by getting bore-draws as opposed to going down all guns blazing is a no brainer as far as management will be concerned.

  • Comment number 40.

    I can't believe some of the commments from english folk on here. YOu berate the SPL as a mickey mouse league yet when we play like thats what we come from we get criticised for that also! Man Utd defeated barcelona to make a champions league final by playing exactly this style of football but just had more craft in ronaldo and rooney, thats something we just don't have the luxury of.

    The most expensive signing we've made since arteta can't even play in this tournament and our top earner is on areound 18 grand a week which is probably the appearance fee of a good number of those old trafford players. Last night we defended brillianty which is what was required and broadfoot even had a shout for a penalty that if it had been at the other end you feel it would have been given! It's easy to turn up and put ten men behind the ball but many teams do that at old trafford and lose sloppy goals, we didn't even give united a decent chance and rooney was non existent.

    My worry isn't away from home but at home where we will have to open up a little but more but i think third place is our aim and anything is would be an unbelieveable bonus after spending no money for two years and only around 6 million (with about 4 coming in) on our squad.

    There is another side to this as well in that we have a threadbare squad (could we have made 10 changes last night and brought in an 30 millions pound striker, defender and a 18 million pound winger?) and every point will help ease our large debts that we can't clear in scotland. To put it into context our debt can never be cleared in scotland but one seasons EPL tv money would wipe the slate clean.

    Thank you to every player in blue last night as you did us all proud. You played with heart and spirit which is all we can ask this year. Walter you have no need to defend anything because you're working with two hands tied behind your back and yet you still produce the goods. The man is a legend and if he plays anti-football then the stars of world football like messi can come and help us change it. Give guardiola the rangers side and lets see what football he would play against a walter smith barcelona and that goes for any other manager out there.

  • Comment number 41.

    And enough of this tedious excuse of money. Were Twente complaining about money last night against Inter?

    Maybe if Rangers and Celtic didn't spend the 90's and noughties wasting millions on average foreign players and invested in youth instead, things would be different. How much did they pay for Tore Andre Flo?

  • Comment number 42.

    Agreed the CL Group Stages need a shake up, im thinking a knockout round of 32, then 4 groups of 4, guaranteening at least 2 top class teams in each group resulting in better games with better quality teams.

  • Comment number 43.

    The analysis is a bit short-termist Phil; if United get a win against Liverpool and go on to qualify from the group then Fergies squad selection will be pretty vindicated imo.

    Full credit to Rangers last night, deserved the point, but personally I have no problem with Fergie's team selection considering that Liverpool game coming up.
    Yes there were 10 changes from the game against Everton, but Rooney was left out for personal reasons, and some other key members were rested as arrived back late from international duty (Valencia etc). I disagree that it was particularly a carling cup team last night; Rooney, Ferdinand, Valencia, Fletcher, Park, Brown all started. Week in, week out 5 of those would probably feature in the first XI, especially in Europe where Park's often preferred. As for the rest of the fringe players, they'll benefit from the experience and gametime to get them up to match fitness. Hernandez whilst young is clearly in Fergie's first team thoughts aswell considering he's featured in 4 of our first 6 senior games.
    As Sam Wanjere said, it's a squad game nowadays and its a long season where going to need the whole squad conditioned/up to match fitness etc. Prioritisation comes into it. Utd had a bruising game against Everton at the weekend, are 4 pts behind Chelsea and got a massive game against Liverpool coming up this weekend.
    The likes of Scholes struggles to play three consecutive matches nowadays, and whereas could've played him against Rangers and rested him against Liverpool, makes little sense, especially given it would mean no-one to come in for him against Liverpool would have much gametime behind them. Carrick is injured, Hargreaves is injured, Anderson hasn't played a senior game yet, Gibson hadn't played a senior game until last night, Park hadn't played much prior to last night etc.
    You need a large squad nowadays to compete in all competitions and rotation becomes key. We're going to need these players over the long haul. The fringe players need enough games for you to retain them (eg. Kuszczak) and the youngsters are going to need gametime to develop. Rio's soon to turn 32, Brown soon to turn 31, Evra turns 30 next spring; the future rests in the likes of Fabio and Smalling so got to give them games when you can.
    Besides Fergie always rotates a fair amount up to Christmas to condition everyone for the run in, where more often that not, United are strong. Might not always get the same result you would in those games that rest key players, but will ensure the teams not done for by February/March, where at the current level other clubs will capitilise on your fatigue,

    Anyways the result pales compared to the disappointment in Valencia getting a longterm injury. Hope he makes a good recovery and doesn't result in him a yard of pace.

  • Comment number 44.

    #31 Really a point at old trafford by defending well is a disgrace for scottish football? So what did you make of the 4-0 loss you had to the dutch seventh placed team? Stop being jealous of the fact that we can shut up shop and actually defend when it is required. It may not be pretty but it is a realistic approach to the game to get something from it and celtic would have done exactly the same and even lennon would admit that

  • Comment number 45.

    #20 Phil: 'What about my scepticism about the Champions League group stage?'

    I agree it definately has lost it's sparkle, but what do you expect if groups are so heavily seeded the big guns always avoid each other early doors thus guaranteeing their inevitable progress to the now familiar looking knock-out rounds - added to previously discussed 'Platini's plan' to introduce a lot more smaller, less fashionable clubs? People want wealth distribution to be fairer on one hand (and rightly so) but moan about absence of Juventus, PSV's on the other.

    Phil, do you think Walter Smith's arguement about 'the huge financial disparity between clubs competing in the Champions League' suggests Platini's plan to intergrate smaller clubs is presently unworkable and do you think a Euro League containing the top Scottish, Dutch, Portugese clubs etc would address the financial imbalance?

  • Comment number 46.

    even if it accepted that rangers played man utds reserves last night you would have to alarmed and very worried at the complete lack of quality manchester now have in their squad.
    ferguson is on the verge .his team is on the way down.i would say chelsea and arsenal have far far better squads.

  • Comment number 47.

    At the moment at least, Scholes is critical to United!

    And if he is to last the season, then SAF has to tread carefully with him. Therefore, I perfectly understand why he rested him.

    Ancelotti has recognised the same issue with his senior players at Chelsea and is doing the same thing.

    Malouda and Alex rested against West Ham!

    Ashely Cole rested for tonight's game, and Lampard given extra time to recover from Hernia Op.

    This is just a good example of a manager trying to looking after his players.

    Unfortunately, sometimes the result doesn't work out, and then you are of course open to criticism.

  • Comment number 48.

    It may not be pretty but it is a realistic approach to the game to get something from it and celtic would have done exactly the same and even lennon would admit that


    Celtic have always tried to attack at Old Trafford

  • Comment number 49.

    it was a hugely frustrating night and its somewhat typical of Fergie to pick such a team no matter what he says about "first choice" players...there were too many second string guys-nothing wrong with them....but this is the Champions League-and as proved his opponent,knew how to take on Utd...Fergie surely knew that?

    by the way the photo of "a missed opportunity" is' was just before kick off!!!

  • Comment number 50.

    Hi Phil, - not been on in a while.

    I don't agree Fergie's team selection was anything to do with the Champions League losing any of its gloss, I believe he seen Rangers as an opportunity to give returning/ fringe players a run out, and ultimately as we didn't manage to find a winner this is being predictably criticised.

    However I am most certainly in agreement the scale of the changes was unnecessary. It is/ was five days between the Rangers and Liverpool game, easily adequate time for the players to fully recover.

    Anyway putting the result into perspective we have one point, and should still qualify very easily, however with a potentially tricky trip away to an albeit fading Valencia side, a draw/ loss over there would leave us on one/ two points after two games, - meaning we would need to win 3 of our 4 remaining games.

    To me, that is the main downside to this result.

    On this season as a whole I have been fairly pleased with our form this season. We certainly look a lot less reliant on Rooney, and we look like we have goals with in us as well in his absence, which is a great plus, as last season we looked absolutely toothless without him.

    Happy with what I have seen so far!

  • Comment number 51.

    TV money really has killed football as a spectacle. Even just a couple of years ago what would have been billed as an epic Battle of Britain clash was no more than a question of how many United would win by. And that's a real shame.

    I also agree re: Champions League group stages being stale. You can also add the Europa League into this as well. All designed by UEFA with maximising revenue in mind. Every big tournamnet is now set up to favour the big sides. Look at how poor the World Cup was - you could practically call all the fixtures out beforehand right through to the final (didn't quite work out like that mind) but its just so boring and predictable. Kind of like the football itself.

    A free draw as others have said is the answer. The magic of the cup is that anything can happen, any team can come out of the hat. Not any more and as a result most of the excitement has gone.

  • Comment number 52.

    Agree with Lookie Bookie - the aim is to get the points on the board. Rangers were disciplined and solid. If they had resorted to fouling (ie Netherlands v Spain) I would be the first to criticise. As it was, they stopped a top side from even looking like scoring. Defence like that can be as beautiful to watch as flowing attacking football!

    As for Fergie, it clearly wasn't the strongest side he could put out and it's a shame he feels the ability to make such gambles. I agree that it devalues the league part - bring back knock-out all the way!

    Finally, I think that Fergie is looking increasingly short term and I wonder if Man U will relinquish their top 4 status in the next five years. It will be interesting as Man City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham breathe down their necks. No doubt eight 14 year-olds will suddenly turn up from their academy and win the league year in year out though!

  • Comment number 53.

    as far as i see it ... only manchester united is the club that put out a week team . did you see the barcelona squad yesterday ... that is the spainish team playing in the group stage of the champions league and what a performance that was ...

  • Comment number 54.

    I'm stunned - I actually agree with this post 100%! I was at the match and couldn't believe it when the starting line out was announced, making similar comments. Fergie clearly knows this is a straight fight between Man U and Valencia with Rangers dropping into Europa League. The real expectation is that Man U will comfortably take 3 points at Ibrox with our first 11 when there isn't such a massive game approaching as there is this Sunday (v Liverpool. Totally disappointing game but Rio and Rooney survived and we'll all forget this result at the end of the KO stages.

  • Comment number 55.

    Oh and as for the group stages being irrelevant, the liverpool fans were arguing pretty much the same thing last summer - what happened there?

  • Comment number 56.

    Of course the format's flawed, the first group stage is as boring as it gets. But this is how Europe's top (and when I say top I obviously mean richest) teams wanted it to maximise their revenue so this is the way it will always be now. Shame really, even though I'm a Spurs fan and I'm pleased we're in it this year I'd still rather it was a knockout competition where only the winners qualified, or winners and runners up if we're going to stretch it. Fact is teams finishing third or fourth have no right to compete in a competition called "The Champions League", makes a mockery of the whole thing.

  • Comment number 57.

    Youve not left a lot for me after that blog Mc, we seem to be entering a new phase with SAF, losing late goals and cant do right for doing wrong, are we seeing the beggining of the end? and am I being sentimental or was the old format of knock out all the way through better than this league drivel?

  • Comment number 58.

    I have to say I feel sorry for the SPL - and for all the right reasons at least. The SPL is not a boring league and rarely do games end up goalless - yet with no TV money to increase revenue and squad quality they are forced to play defensively (and quite rightly) in the face of more financially superior oppostion. The SPL does not lack passion or commitment, far from it. And try telling anyone a Glasgow derby isn't worth watching - even the rare goalless ones are a noise-fest. I would appreciate more coverage of the league just to see teams like Celtic and Rangers be able to rteceive the cash injections that could help them get to the next level. It's not a case of special privelages; it's a league that's very watchable - just seems the decision makers in TV don't deem it to be - surely there's more room could be squeezed into the schedules for it?

  • Comment number 59.

    #41 You aren't really being serious surely? All the top premier leagues teams debt is sustained only beause of the money they recieve each and every year. Inter aren't close to the kind of money that the top four in england have and lets be honest they didn't exactly attack their way to win the CL last year. Twente were also at home and we were away, do you think twente will be playing the same way at the san siro? The sheer arrogance of your comment actually shows how much attention you pay to anything outside the EPL as there has been talk of the disparity and proposals for a mini european league to try and help these sort of teams compete at a CL level.

    How about for qualifying for the CL group stages you all get a fair share of the earnings? As surely the incentive for the tournament is the prestige of winning it? SO lets put that proposal to all of europes big clubs and see how they feel about that. DO you think they would say yes or no? Precisely so don't tell me it isn't about money. The top leagues in europe have it all there own way precisely because of the massive budgets they have. For twente/rangers/celtic/benfica/porto/ajax/psv or any of the other teams of that ilk getting to the last 16 is the holy grail as it doesn't always come. Rubin kazan were the fifth biggest spenders in europe last year and have made the CL group stages twice in succesive years, money can buy you limited success

  • Comment number 60.

    Your right about the Champions League format Phil. Being 23, I don't really remember much about European football with the group stage structure.

    Unfortunately it seems to produce too many dead rubbers and too many big teams being able to stroll through.

    I don't know what other people think but 40 teams in the competition could be increased to 64 at the September stage.

    Round 1 - Home & Away
    Round 2 - Home & Away
    Round 3 - Home & Away

    (After X-mas)
    Quarter Final - Home & Away
    Semi Final - Home & Away

    Would give teams who get to the final 11 games, but 11 games that meant something.

    Plus the teams who went out in Rounds 1, 2 & 3 could also supplement a Europa Cup structure that was a free draw but only started after the Xmas break.

  • Comment number 61.

    Phil- from the moment this tie 'came out of the hat'-so to speak, you could guess the likely outcome. Namely that SAF would take the opportunity to give some of his squad players a run out, (with Liverpool match looming), almost certainly they would not lose (since whatever team SAF put out Rangers would come to defend) but a good chance they would draw rather than win and they would still have 5 games left in which to qualify for the knock-out stages.
    As it happens I could not go last night and let another family member use my season ticket, never have I surrender the ticket with more certainty that I would not be missing too much!
    I do agree that when the CL Group stages are 'stacked', as they are this time, they become mere formalities for most CL 'regulars'. I don't blame SAF for his tactics, but I do think overall, that fans are being somewhat 'short-changed' when these situations arise -although most United fans will have been aware of the likely team changes occuring.

  • Comment number 62.


    I must criticise but in the most constructive and useful way possible.

    Your articles are extremely pointless. Firstly we need to consider the fact it is the FIRST group stage game of the Champions League. So UTD may well be very happy with a draw, even if they did struggle to break down Rangers. All this talk about Berba, Scholes is hearsay - the players there couldn't break them down and Sir Alex chose them to do the task - they couldn't. Let's not argue with a man whose won more trophies than actual games of football we have ever played! Particularly if our arguments seems like they are written for the sake of producing a decent "blog."

    Secondly, champions league losing "some" of its sparkle? Maybe based on the UTD-Rangers game. But elsewhere the emphatic answer is no. SPURS-BREMEN = great game, four goals. BARCA Game = 6 goals, BARCA came back from behind. INTER game = four goals, newcomers attacked and drew with the current holders. VALENCIA game = four goals. BENFICA = two goals.

    None of the above listed games have suggestion of "lost sparkle" behind them. Stop taking one "BRITISH" game and using is to tar the whole of the competition. And no, this game (UTD-Rangers) is not an indication of things to come. Why? Because teams have defended like this for ages and always ended up being dumped out! The real teams know that attacking football (i.e. goals) win you games. Just ask FC Twente, they seem to realise that. Ask did Totttenham who scored two good goals but lacked the discipline in defence.

    I seriously suggest your read a mixture of articles written by MIKE ATHERTON and BRIAN MOORE. Their articles are insightful, cutting-edge, analytical and straight to the point where necessary. They cut right to the heart of what people are thinking. It helps they are sportsman of the very highest calibre and I appreciate you are not. But that is no excuse for journalism which is not up to the very highest standards.

    Please can you take my advice on board....we pay to read what you write (licence fee), so that means we are fully justified in criticising.

  • Comment number 63.


    Agree with your second point. Skys money has rendered big tems from small nations (or even poorer nations) obselete. Imagine Corinthans/Flamengo vs Barcelona in the World club cup. The best south americans would play for Barca where as before the massive injection of TV money into already wealthy countries Flamengo and the like would have players like Zico in their side.

    Now if teams like that have no chance, what does rangers/celtic/ajax/whoever have? God, wigan cant sell their stadium out and get 10x the tv rangers and celtic do.

  • Comment number 64.

    The fact is, Fergie thought he could get away with fielding a weakened team and still get the win. It's fully understandable that he should think that, given the disparity between the quality of the English and Scottish games. However, you've got to be prepared to take the flak if it doesn't come off. It didn't, but they'll still progress comfortably. Rangers, meanwhile, deserve a lot of credit for sticking to their task and getting the point. I totally disagree with the opinions of some here that would prefer to see them die a glorious death and get pummelled.

    As for Phil's point about the Champions League group stages, it is certainly an interesting debate. What alternative is there, though? The teams that win their domestic leagues, however poor, warrant a place in Europe and they will feel they deserve the chance to take on some of the world's biggest sides, espeically after coming through some gruelling qualifiers.

    Yes, there is often an imbalance, but it's not as if the entire competition is devalued by their presence - things really do hot up in the knock-out phase and, quite often, some strong groups (like Tottenham's) are thrown up. There is the odd fairytale, after all. How could we forget Barcelona's home defeat to Rubin Kazan last season? I say let the minnows have their five minutes in the sun, then get down to the real business.

  • Comment number 65.

    A very strange assessment of last night's game.

    The two biggest surprises in terms of selection were Smalling and Fabio in for Vidic and Evra, and yet both had faultless games in a defence which kept a clean sheet. The same goes for Tomasz Kuszczak.

    Yes, Nani and Giggs were also left out, but they were replaced by Valencia and Park. It is an insult to those players' quality to label that a "Carling Cup" selection.

    With Rooney and Fletcher playing, the only two remaining question marks are over Gibson and Hernandez. Scholes is a 35 year old who has started every league game this season. It's quite understandable that SAF preferred to not risk starting him 3 times in 9 days. Carrick and Hargreaves are both injured, Anderson is only just back in training after missing almost a year of football, so was it really unreasonable for SAF to give Darron Gibson a game?

    So in order to create a goal, United had an array of first team talent in the shape of Rooney, Valencia, Park, Fletcher and the best available cover for Paul Scholes. That only leaves the question of Rooney's strike partner. Yes Berbatov is in great form, but he is another player who SAF will want fresh for Sunday's game. Instead he put in a young and hungry striker, fresh from two goals in the World Cup and another on his competitive debut for United. On the bench he had an apparently little known player by the name of Michael Owen (who did score a hattrick in the CL group stage last year).

    None of this explains last night's result. So why take the lazy option and just blame everything on team selection anyway?

  • Comment number 66.

    I personally diagree with you on The Berba and Scholes front. I don't think the result would have been any different if they were playing. Rangers were outstanding in their organisation and discipline last night that I don't think a World 11 would of got through that defence. Gibsons long range efforts were the only form of attacking the goal United had and like previous posters have said no Man Utd player really had a bad game last night. Berbatov getting the ball in tight areas Phil? How would that help? Any United player that had the ball near the box had 2 or 3 blue jerseys round him straight away so regardless of how good a touch Berba has he would of been lucky to have used that to create space once last night.

    Rangers no what they had to do and they did it superbly. Of course Walter Smith would love to play a team that could go to Old Trafford and attack, however he knows fine well that would be footballing suicide. The only criticism i would of had of Rangers last night was in the second half when they actually got forward 3 or 4 times they could of maybe created a chance if 1 or 2 more players went forward to support Miller when he picked up the ball instead of just sitting back back waiting on him to give it away.

    The return fixture will be very interesting as Rangers will set up the same way again but no doubt they will try and get forward a little more.

    As for your weak team debate. Manchester United are the only team that supposedly did that in all the games last night and you may find that Fabio is the only player in that side who isn't a full international player (even though he has been asked to join the Portuguese full squad) so they are hardly that "weak". Just because they aren't the players you would of played doesn't make them weak. It is a squad game and every single one of them (barring Kuszack) will play a very big part this season in helping United push for the title.

  • Comment number 67.

    Staring XI cost over 80 million quid-- some Carling Cup team!? Gibson looks like becoming a K Richardson at best. Park is lightweight and can't carry the game and Owen must be crying all the way to the bank. An injury to Scholes or Fletcher would certainly leave them exposed. Is Ferguson finally running out of rabbits? This isn't really the Man U we've come to know and loathe.

  • Comment number 68.

    Couldn't agree more about the format of the CL being quite flawed. Too many drab processions and chances to make up for poor showings, I mean the winners could potentially lose 4 games in the group stages and 1 leg in the last 16, 8, and 4, that's 7 Games! Far too many for a potential CL winner.

    Instead I proposed the following in a thread a while ago...

    32 teams reduced to 30. Not fussed how this is done.

    10 Groups of 3 - Play each other twice meaning 4 Matches each.

    Only top team qualifies auto for last 16.

    Best runner up by way of GD (to encourage goals) qualifies also. Menaing 11 teams qualify so far.

    The best 3rd place team in the same way joins the reamining 9 runners up in a knockout two leg qualifier for the last 16. 5 Losers enter the Europa League (including the 2 teams cut from the start this is 7 teams as oppose to currently 8 so not much difference). Anyway, and the 5 winners join the 11 in the last 16.

    Group winners would be more financially rewarded for winning the groups due to lost revenue in the two less matches they need to reach the last 16.

    The competition continues as normal from there...

    This would create far more excitement in the group stages and introduce an earlier more exciting knock-out phase.

    Anyone think otherwise or see problems?

    If not they should have me running UEFA :0)

  • Comment number 69.

    A dull contest and a poor miscalculation from Ferguson. The lack of creativity played right into Walter Smiths hands. Not surprised at the result at all.

    United are at a turning point in my opinion. Where the balance between substance and potential become clear for all to see. Arsenal have been at that point on and off for three years. Underinvestment and lack of prowess in the transfer market are about to be Uniteds undoing. The squad isnt good enough. It wasnt good enough last year and it wont be good enough this year.

    Meltdown..........not quite yet but maybe next season.

    The Fan base will need some serious educating about how this once great club is about to kneel.

    Get ready for more of the same from Manchester Utd. Lots more..

  • Comment number 70.

    As always a good read Phil, your points are well made.

    When you consider the strength of both sides - as a United fan - I am left a little disappointed that United didn't take all three points. Even when fielding an lesser United side, it still should have been a fairly comfortable victory as Scottish football is not nearly as strong now as it once was. That being said, you have to credit Rangers for matching United and driving them out. They worked to secure a point and they earned it.

    I have to confess that I don't blame Ferguson for testing his squad. A lot of people will argue that he is undermining a great competition, but I don't see as that at all. It may sound cliche, but there are no easy games anymore and Fergie has a huge squad that need to play frequently in order to remain fresh and sharp. Reserve team football doesn't give fringe players the type of intense, quick tempo football that is required to play at the very top level. So, Fergie is left picking and choosing matches throughout the season where he can get away with - if you like - selecting a 'weaker' United team.

    As much as a scoreless draw at Old Trafford was a disappointing result, I don't think their progression to the knock out stages is in too much doubt. Class shines through and United have enough fire-power to compete with the best.

    It just goes to show how much we miss Berbatov, who has been amazing so far this season. He's always been a player who 'makes things happen' but has never really received credit for his service. Fans would rather bang on about how few goals he scores, which he seems to be slowly putting right. Scholes, another player who has been playing out of skin recently was also missed. His quick-fire distribution carves open defences and if anyone was going to unlock the deep and tight Rangers defensive, it would be Scholesy.

    Hopefully now United will be fired up to give Liverpool a good stuffing on Sunday.

  • Comment number 71.

    Also kapnang have a look at this

    Are those not youth facilities? Man Utd have some of the best youth facilities in the world so lets look through last nights team to see how many players came through it and have built the bedrock of the united team

    Kuszcak - signed from west brom?

    Brown - Brought through

    Ferdinand - 30 million west ham youth

    Smalling - 10 million pound fulham youth

    Fabio - A mancunian if ever i've seen one....

    Valencia - Ecuador

    Gibson - Brought through

    Fletcher - Brought through

    Park - unless they've started eating dogs in manchester then we'll take it that the song means he is foreign

    Rooney - 30 million from everton

    Hernandez - mexico

    Even if we go outside of that you can have evans and o'shea but are any of these boys indespensible for united? Even in fletchers case i hardly think you would have been furious at fergie for ever leaving him out. United got a good group over ten years ago and two of them are still some of the better players in the team. WIth more money comes better coaching, better contracts once they turn professional and with more money it is easier to get players to settle. Beckham didn't come to united from london because of the view..... before you bring up someone like west ham as an example of producing great youth with a lesser budget take a few things into consideration. The city they reside in has a population greater than scotland so the pool they can choose from is a large advantage. They also are only expected to be in the EPL while rangers are expected to win the league so it is a lot easier to blood youth when you can take risks.

    The very reason the old firm dominate scotland is because of money! When hamilton come to ibrox do i expect them to attack us? NO! To do so would be stupid as they would definitely lose! That is the difference between united and rangers at the moment. We did spend recklessly during that era (if you get your fact right celtic aren't actually in and considerable debt so it shows how you actually know about the subject) and we are paying for it now and not a single rangers fan would say anything else. Facts are facts though so the disparity is there and this is how we will bridge the gap. To be fair though about the reckless spending if in premier league a club was 30 million in debt right now they would be considered to be financially well run

  • Comment number 72.


    Every year you journalists make a mockery of the CL Group stages, but the fact of the matter is, plenty of big teams fall out at this stage so I completely disagree with your opinion that the format needs re-looking at. What are you proposing? Not only is the Group stage exciting, it throws up some great games, is unpredictable and keeps fans excitied as they know a loss or two still means they are in with a shout. As a Spurs fan, anyone watching either of the group games in our group last night would have seen some fantastic, exciting football. As for predictable, did anyone see Inter Milan drawing?

  • Comment number 73.

    PS, your last comment is ridiculous - Champions league lost its sparkle? You guys have already used this on the League cup and FA cup. If champions league has lost its sparkle, whats left?!

    PS, although not a sell out, id consider 74,000 fans in the height of a recession prety good going!!

  • Comment number 74.

    The Champions League group stages are as pointless as the Europa League...

  • Comment number 75.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 76.

    Hello Phil,

    I agree with your sentiment that the Champions League could lose it's sparkle on the basis that teams will play some games in the league format in such a way that losing is difficult but winning impossible. I also agree that Rangers should be applauded for managing to maintain such discipline, regardless of WHO they actually played.

    The (possibly illogical) culmination of it all will be when a team plays ALL 6 games in such a non-lose fashion.

    However, UEFA will have only themselves to blame for creating a league system where teams can play this way on more than one occasion, to the perceived detriment of the paying, viewing customer. The chances of bringing back the 2-leg all-knockout-rounds European Cup has been scuppered by the money-men and quasi-political agitators who always want to see the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Milan, et al competing for European club football's grandest prize (or something).

    Having written all of that, there is nothing in the rules of the game or competition (that I'm aware of) that states that all teams must be seen playing aggressively for a win at all times. As has been pointed out previously, defence is part of the game and it is up to the attack to break it down.

    To the game itself, from an abstract point of view I think both Smith will think that it is a point won and Ferguson will think that it was always going to be tricky against the proverbial team bus and that they didn't lose themselves. Plenty of time and others games to get the 3 pointers.

    It will be interesting to see Rangers' game plan when they are at Ibrox and seemingly expected to attack, as they will undoubtedly expose their defence to counterattacks and run the risk of conceding more than they can score.

    @sixtyandangry (29)- no disagreement from me but turgid is also defined as "bloated or pompous", something that could definitely apply to the game in the context of the gravy train that is the Champions League.

  • Comment number 77.

    I'm sorry, but what a load of rubbish. Fergie has to balance his selection with League games to also consider. If he picked his 1st team and then lost on Sunday, the know it all journalists would be criticising him off for putting Champions League over Premier League.

    That team last night, on ability, should have won. Fair play to Rangers, they made it difficult, as they are entitled to. United lacked pace and sharpness, perhaps because of the changes. But it's hard to break on a side that is defending deep, so maybe even a 'first' team would have struggled.

    Scholes cannot play every game. He's 36, nobody can argue this is one he could and should have missed with Liverpool on Snday. Rooney should have been capable of unlocking the defence, but he looks a little out of sorts. It's not a huge problem. It's one game. The real blow was the injury to Valencia and I wish him well.

    As for the cynicism about the group stages, isn't it a bit predictable to have a go when it was a poor game. If it had been 4-3 last night we'd have had a blog saying how great the Champions League is and it's the best tournament in the world.

    I'm afraid this is another knee jerk attempt at Journalism. It makes me laugh how people who study Journalism then get into writing about it seem to think they know the game just because they watch a lot of it and speak to people within the game. Criticise Fergie at your own risk, I suspect he'll have the last laugh.

  • Comment number 78.

    Facts people. Rangers were ordinary and at best hardworking. The reality is that man utd at best is an average ageing side in a very poor and one sided premiership.

    The poor performance was caused by an ineffective midfield and poor movement by the strikers.

    The forward front passing by Fletcher was always behind and never ahead of the receiving foward to continue the move in play within the same stride thus stop to collect and start again.

    Gibson, slightly better both both extremely guilty of not being able to take one a midfielder and dribble past thus create possible indecision within the last line of defence.

    Incredibly, we also saw the one dimemsional nature of the man utd forwards, both rooney and hernandez were too static and predictable both in their movement and passing and worse lack of creativity or dribbling.

    Rangers defence was lined outside the 18 yard box yet with the holding defence and man utd high levels of possession, no too few fouls or freekicks were conceived thus indicating the lack of creatvity and dribbling.

    Another area for the failur of the night is right and left back. Both were poor. their movement, passing and contribution was ragged and of low quality.

    Both Brown and Fabio when ever they moved forward, stayed too close to the line as they came onto the 18-24 yards meaning that Park and Valencia both had too push up further or move inwards and further congest the static front line strikers. with both options, rangers or any organised team will be able to address this.

    Also rangers conceding the first corner of the match in the 80 min indicates the wingers moved foward and deeper more often which creates distance between the full backs and wingers thus the midfield have to go wide to fetch the ball and to pass, they can at best go across which is easier for defences to address and to go direct, the congestion alsos makes it easier to track.

    Rio and Smalling, no issues throught the game but again showed the difference in age. Rio seemed content to hold and build the game slowly at at his pace, both defenders focused only on a single striker who positioned himself almost in the number 11 position but slightly deeper/closer to midfield.

    One defender should have pushed up thereby forcing rangers to add one more to the midfield thus open up spaces and remove the man utd long passes to short simple and consise passing which would speed up their game.

    Overall, when a team has to rely on Owen, Scholes and Giggs in their prime to create or score, shows the team for what it truly is. Collection of average 20 somethings who lack technique, creativity and worse, lack the warrior mentally mau utd players of past have always had.

  • Comment number 79.

    I feel that I'm alone in thinking this, but I was over the moon when I saw Fergie's team selection before the game. I've been crying out for some of the younger players to get games in the League so far this season (in particular Rafael, who was suspended tonight).
    I'm a lot happier seeing a young team struggle to break down an ultra-defensive Rangers, than watching one of the oldest and most experienced lineups we could possibly put out throw away a comfortable lead at Everton.

    Sir Alex has spent the summer telling us about the faith he has in our young players, but so far in the League hasn't trusted any of them to play, something that I was very disgruntled about. According to his post-match interview, he wanted to have a look at some of those players, which gives me hope that they'll start to get games.

    One lack of a win against a parked bus doesn't make the youngsters poor players. We've turned young potential into world class stars before simply by giving the players games - they aren't going to learn any other way. Alan Hansen famously criticised Fergie for his faith in the young players, and time and again pundits have written our younger players off, time and again Sir Alex's faith has been justified. You'd have thought people would have learnt by now, but maybe some people just enjoy being proven wrong!

  • Comment number 80.

    Agree entirely that the seedings make the group stages very predictable. I think SAF was right to rest his very big names for Sunday and I think he thought the team he put out could beat the Rangers 11. The Glasgow team did defend very well though. How many teams can leave Old Trafford with their keeper not having had to make a decent save?

    Having said that Man Utd have won 1 game in 4 (and that by a single penalty goal at home to bottom club West ham) so they are not clicking at the moment.

  • Comment number 81.

    It may not be pretty but it is a realistic approach to the game to get something from it and celtic would have done exactly the same and even lennon would admit that

    Celtic have always tried to attack at Old Trafford
    And where would it have got us? Another away day defeat in Europe.

    Celtic have one of the worst away records in the CL. We have been unable to set out to contain teams away from home all the way back to MON's time in charge in the CL. All those consecutive away 'defeats' (draws would be a step-up!) were not down to being unlucky but largely because of an inability to organise and defend. So much as it galls me to do so, I give praise where it is due. And I wish Cetic were actually able to do the same when required: even against Ross County!!

    Rangers are not a pretty team to watch at all but then as Utrecht and Braga found out, attacking wise, we aren't that good either.

  • Comment number 82.

    #5. You argued that Scottish Football is a joke but how do you expect a country of 5 million to compete with the footballing giants of today's world? Clearly the Old Firm have made mistakes in chasing European glory in the past and have punched above their weight and are suffering now as the money has dried up. In other countries with similar populations, such as the Scandinavian nations, the SPL compares quite similarly to their top divisions. The Scottish public expect a lot from their teams as the past was good for both club sides and the international team, but now, when money is paramount, they are struggling.

    Your argument that Chelsea, Man U or Arsenal wouldn't play like Rangers did against Barcelona, Real Madrid or any big team with world class players is a joke and makes no sense to what you are trying to say about Scottish football. Last season's champions Inter Milan produced an incredibly defensive display against Barcelona to get through to the final.

    Of course, Scottish football is a "joke" compared to the Premier League, La Liga or Serie A but what do you expect? there are less players, less money, greater disparities between the clubs and a lack of investment in the grass roots, which will hopefully be altered in the future.

  • Comment number 83.

    Lookie Brookie, there have been plenty of teams from so called "lower leagues" that have come and given United 10 times the game Rangers did last night. They simply try to play football. It's 11 against 11. And as you've proven with your second post, half of that team were hardly inter stellar players out of Rangers depth, so what excuse was there to pack 10 in defence?

    And you're pretty selective on the youth that has come through United. Over the last 20 years there has been countless youth products given a chance, the premiership is full of former United youth reserves.

    Scottish football has only itself to blame for neglecting their own players, and wasting millions on poor ones. Wasn't there a campaign by the Scottish FA to stop Celtic and Rangers playing so many foreigners?

  • Comment number 84.

    Maybe those critical of Rangers tactics would have preferred the Dutch WC Final approach? The future of Man U looks bleak not because of SAF but because despite year after year of success they are burdened by huge debts.
    The CL format was designed for TV and to make money, football was not a priority so this is what we get.

  • Comment number 85.

    No creativity in the team - relying on Berbatov for this seems to be a plea of desperation because for 2 years he floated about doing nothing!!! If you want to see creativity watch Barca all 10 outfield players know when to play a pass and make runs into the box - sheer class!!

  • Comment number 86.

    And where would it have got us? Another away day defeat in Europe.


    Where does it get Rangers? No wins in 3 years. Go out giving it your best, or limp out lamely. I know which one I'd prefer to watch

  • Comment number 87.

    No creativity in the team - relying on Berbatov for this seems to be a plea of desperation because for 2 years he floated about doing nothing!!! If you want to see creativity watch Barca all 10 outfield players know when to play a pass and make runs into the box - sheer class!!


    Barcelona - 1 (late) home goal in the last 3 Champions league semi finals

  • Comment number 88.

    Brown Ferdinand Smalling Fabio

    Fletcher Gibson

    Valencia Rooney Chicharito Park

    Why is this a big deal? The traditional SAF team always plays better towards the end of the season regardless of what the competition is. Fergie likes to switch his players around and see how different combinations work, nothing wrong with that considering that there’s a whole season still to play.

    Was this a must win game? NO.

    Is it important to give Brown a full 90 minutes. Yes

    Was it important to see how Smalling does over 90 mins. Yes,

    Was it important to give Fabio a run? Yes. He was a good attacking option, but he needs more games to improve linkup play. Hence playing against Rangers was ideal, as he’d have plenty of attacking to do. He didn’t do it very well, granted, but you have to try it out to see for yourself!

    Is Gibson good enough to play as an attacking midfielder, his goals from long range and power in the middle of the park seems to suggest so, again, why not have a look.

    Valencia hasn’t had much of a run in the season so far due to Nani being on the right and thriving there, but he was one of our best players last season and he will be important for us once he’s back.

    Is it important to see how Chicharito plays over 90 mins, of course. He played well enough in my opinion and I still think he’ll succeed at United. This is not his type of game due to his lack of any physical presence, but in an open game against a team like Arsenal or even Inter Milan, he can be expected to thrive.

    Park is a very consistent performer for United and plays regularly in Europe.

    The team selection is very, very justifiable, if anyone wants to argue with SAF, good luck, but I’ll keep my faith where I know its safe.

    Now what United didn’t do very well was play on the counter attack, there were 4 or 5 times in the first half where Rangers did get quite close to the United goal but having flushed out the threat, the break away wasn’t frantic enough, there was too much slow build up and not enough through balls for someone with Hernandez pace to capitalize on.

    So the team didn’t link up very well together, we didn’t see the type of deft touches you get when nani rooney and berba play together in attack, this is not due to it being a weak team, they’re just not used to playing with each other.

    I repeat: wasn’t a must win game.

    So whats the big deal. 9 points from 5 games is very doable against the teams in our group.

    Bring on the Pool.

  • Comment number 89.

    This game just highlighted our lack of ability in midfield to open a defence. Rangers won't be the first team to put 11 men behind the ball and unfortuantly our two most creative midfielders, Giggs and Scholes, won't be able to play every game.

    For whatever reason, financial or otherwise, Uniteds decision not to purchase a top player in the summer was a mistake.

    Having said this, 5 minutes before the end of the Everton game i was very optimistic for the season. Good luck to Valencia (the player!)

  • Comment number 90.

    Sub-standard team.
    Sub-standard performance.
    Slur on Scottish football.

    Last minute goals at the wrong end.
    No money.

    Oh dear, what a shame!

  • Comment number 91.

    Both finalists last year struggled through their groups. One more result against them and neither would have progressed. That in itself demonstrates the group system is working.

  • Comment number 92.

    I have to agree with the posters who say it wasnt a Carling Cup side.

    Okay it wasnt an 11 SAF would have put out if it had been a semi final but just look at the players picked.

    Ferdinand, Rooney, Fletcher, Brown, Hernandez, Valencia all internationals. Smalling was a 10 mill signing, Fabio is our natural back up for Evra who has it happens had a shocker on Saturday. Gibson, well he played in the home leg against Bayern and got the opener and finally Park who SAF usually roles out for the big games and scored the winner at OT against Liverpool last season.

    Very lazy journalism indeed and this 11 will bear no resemblance to the side that steps out next week in the CC. I should imagine 5 players at best will be in that team.

    So is it now the case that should the odd "first teamer" be dropped it automatically becomes a CC side? Utter nonsense.

    As SAF rightly side any 11 would have struggled last night against a 9-0-1 formation. Would Scholes and Berbs have made much difference? I personally doubt it. They both play primarily through the middle and that was the area Rangers congested.
    It was just one of those games.

    All it confirmed for me was the the CL doesnt really start until February. The group stages are now nothing more than glorified preliminaries

  • Comment number 93.

    Rangers should play the exact same way at home. Smith should intimate to his fans this, and they will get behind the team more. They will have a better chance of nicking the game too with their crowd behind them. They should employ the same tactics against Valencia. If they manage to get 4 draws out of those games, and possibly win both games against Bursaspor, then they will have a real chance of qualifying from the group. Smith should really consider continuing this approach.

  • Comment number 94.

    Fergie goes out of his way to be rude about Liverpool but resting your entire team is the sincerest form of flattery. Especially as it's FIVE days before they play the Merseysiders and their old rivals are at a really low ebb.

    It's also deeply insulting to Rangers and the rest of United's group. Clearly, Fergie thinks it's an even luckier draw than they usually get. Trouble is, he's probably right.

  • Comment number 95.

    #5 Are you seriously kidding on with this statement?

    "Could anyone imagine United, Chelsea or Arsenal coming up against Barca, Real Madrid or Inter in the group stages and playing in this manner?"

    The tactics that Rangers adopted last night were exactly the same as the ones used by the likes of Man U, Chelsea and Inter against Barca in recent seasons.

    Only once did Man U not play like that against Barca and it was in the champions league final, look what happened there, it was an embarrassment, men against boys.

    Also, Inter won a champions league adopting that tactic against them only last season, and Mourinho was hailed as a tactical god, but when Rangers do it, it's anti-football.

  • Comment number 96.

    Not sure i'd call, Rooney, Valencia, Ferdinand, Brown, Fletcher or Park carling cup players but i suppose comments like that make good headlines.

    Ferguson has a squad and appears to trust all of them to do a job which is good management.

    Sometimes when a team decides to park the proverbial bus it works and well played Rangers for making it work but i think writing Man Utd off after last night as many appear to do is foolish.

  • Comment number 97.

    Bet your not saying this when United get to the 1/4 finals and hopefully beyond.
    Or are you just bitter that SAF wont talk to you as your at the BBC?

  • Comment number 98.

    Fergie rolled the dice, and got it wrong. Was he sending a message to the defenders who let him down on Saturday? Maybe, who knows, he will never tell you. Was he sending a message to the team that they have to play for their places? Maybe, who knows, he will never tell you. Was he so sure that Rangers would never score and just park the bus? Thats more likely. Is Fergie getting cynical in his old age? Probably, why change now.

  • Comment number 99.

    "It does, however, prove my assetion that Scottish football is a bit of a joke, when their league champions feel the need to play this way. Could anyone imagine United, Chelsea or Arsenal coming up against Barca, Real Madrid or Inter in the group stages and playing in this manner?"

    You mean like Man Utd when they played Barcelona in the semis three years ago? Or like Chelsea did when they played Barcelona in the semis two years ago? If they got drawn against a side in that in the group stages, they'd definitely defend like Rangers did last night. No question. Anything else would be suicidal.

  • Comment number 100.

    Man Utd might have won games and trophies but never played well. So it doesn't surprise me.

    The game didn't go as Man Utd wanted. At the end point finger to Rangers for putting 2 walls up. LOL...

    I cheers Rangers as tactics absolutely spot on. Welldone!


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