It was a strange approach from Alex Ferguson and Manchester United on their final group stage match of the Champions League this season, clinching qualification a month ago. Wayne Rooney gets to play, maybe to sharpen his finishing and passing before the big derby this weekend, while everyone around him, including Javier Hernandez, probably won’t be playing in the match of the season.
But why did Ferguson give Rooney the start? Not like him to play someone he knows he needs in a more important match only a few days later. Maybe it has to do with Rooney’s passing skills and ability to create finishable chances for his teammates that got him a wasted start against the Romanians, who put in all this effort for nothing, missing out on the knockout stage due to their results with Galatasaray.
And even if there was importance for Ferguson in this match, somewhere, somehow, it didn’t look like his players really meant to show it. Rooney had his moments, especially with one nice lob that sent Mario Felgueiras, the busier of the two goalkeeper at Old Trafford, stretching to make a save on a day he probably expected to see more coming at him. The rest? Finding Welbeck here and there for more misses from the England international, scoring only one goal in his last 20 matches, or watching Chicharito waste ball after ball after ball.
Ferguson was probably looking for other things. First, the goalkeeper. It’s customary to give the second keeper a chance in this sort of match, and David De Gea, at least this month, is United’s second goalkeeper. It’s never been known to be a healthy habit; changing keepers like bad socks week in and week out, but Ferguson might try and win a big one like this, something no one has done in quite some time. He was looking for De Gea to show him he’s worthy of causing a think-over regarding the current situation.
The next thing to watch for Ferguson was trying to figure out if there’s someone who can fix his terrible defensive problems. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are the obvious choices to start making things happen, shaking things up, while Jonny Evans seems to be the more reliable of the current centre back duo, Ferguson’s mind is still not made up about who should do better in place of Rio Ferdinand, not to mention Smalling’s ability at right back to take over for Rafael when needed.
Ferguson spoke after the match about the only good things he saw: Phil Jones’ ability and left back Alexander Büttner doing a good job, not for the first time this season. There are still no big news about someone turning the midfield into a respectable unit, or at least consistent. Wayne Rooney isn’t as sharp as Ferguson might have hoped for, but this was his chance to get fit for the derby day, and it’ll have to do.
The rest? No one impressed enough to win him a place in the lineup, but someone, either Scholes or Cleverley will get the start. Maybe both. Giving the rest to Robin van Persie was probably the best thing that came out of this loss, and that’s saying what a waste of an evening it was for anyone who came to watch the game.