Despite the fact their romance with the FA Cup came to an end at Manchester United, Crawley Town were still able to walk away from Old Trafford as the true winners. The club had earned a place in the heart of the country’s football fans, a big pay-out which is always nice for a non-league club and the players themselves were able to take away some prized possessions – like Wayne Rooney’s shirt, which now belongs to David Hunt. But there would have been one person concerned by Saturday’s proceedings. The game identified a huge flaw in Manchester United’s big to win trophies on three fronts as Sir Alex Ferguson witnessed his second-string struggle to victory.
We have to consider that for many of United’s stars, it wasn’t anywhere near as big a game as it was for the visiting side. But even so, it’s not an excuse for the poor showing. Worryingly for the manager, it isn’t the first time this season that his squad members have failed to impress though. It’s been well documented that throughout this campaign United are top without playing near to their potential. But if United are to wrestle the title back from Stamford Bridge, Fergie will need to use his squad in the coming weeks, which doesn’t fill me with the greatest of confidence.
United have a run in which features Chelsea twice, Liverpool and Arsenal away as well as FA Cup and Champions League commitments. But can Fergie really trust some of his squad players to step in with such important games fast approaching? Park is injured, Antonio Valencia is still nowhere near fully fit and they cannot expect the evergreen Ryan Giggs to continue to play as much as he has been doing. So who’s going to step in? Gabriel Obertan? I’m sure I’m not the only one who would shudder at the thought of the Frenchman walking out at Anfield ready to do battle. Mind you, I suppose United could always call on Bebe; another player who stood out at the weekend…
The 69-year-old boss has another problem at full-back. Gary Neville has retired, and the Brazilian twins, Rafael and Fabio, seem to struggle to last 90 minutes without getting injured or sent off. That leaves Fergie with the likes of John O’Shea and Wes Brown to step in. Both did a job at the weekend, but it is easy to see that they are much better players at centre-back. Again, I wouldn’t be encouraged to see O’Shea over-lapping down the line at the Emirates to fizz a ball into the box, and that’s a big part of the way United counter-attack, especially away from home.
Looking at it, United aren’t in a bad position at all. Top of league, huge favourites to progress through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and a home-tie in the sixth round of the FA Cup. But with all that comes a congested fixture list and players suffering from little knocks and niggles. Never before has the saying ‘football is a team game’ been more appropriate. But to succeed you need to have the best and more of the best ready to step in. Questions have to be asked whether Fergie’s second string have enough to cope with the demands of playing for a club challenging on three fronts.
Given their run-in, winning the Premier League yet again would arguably be the best of the lot. Time will only tell whether they have enough, but if the victory over plucky Crawley taught us anything, it’s that Ferguson’s biggest stumbling block in winning trophies this season could be his own lack of real strength in depth.
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