A point to prove
What would Sir Alex Ferguson have done if in the same situation as current United coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer? Left in the unenvious position with a game Thursday-Sunday-Tuesday-Thursday. A situation they found themselves in due to some over zealous fans. Taking the protest from the fringes of peaceful into the realms of threatening.
Solskjaer felt the wrath of David Moyes with his comments. “That might affect whoever gets into fourth position or the Champions League. That’s not my problem” followed by “I cannot play everyone every minute which means we’ve got to prioritise.”
True to his word he did prioritise. He chose to face Villa with a full strength side and then bring in the reserves against Leicester City. With a massive 10 changes to his starting lineup this game was like a Carabao Cup team for United. Brendan Rodgers could be seen grinning from ear to ear.
Wrath of Moyes
Of course this has a massive knockon effect for the Top 4 as West Ham manager David Moyes was keen to state. The former United boss did not mince his words as he applied pressure by saying. “I think Manchester United can always put out a strong team, it’s a question of integrity”.
I would imagine even Moyes never thought that United would give two debuts and replace his starting 11 for this crucial tie. West Ham now find themselves 8 points behind when it could have been two. Had they won their game in hand. This was of course dependant on his old club continuing their 16 match unbeaten run.
The Pep returns to the City
Of course not everyone cares that United changed pace for this tie. Their neighbours will easily forgive their indescretion. The Blue half of Manchester were handed their 3rd title in four seasons. It shows the mindset of United although not being in a title race since 2017 under Jose Mourinho handed their neighbours the trophy with a whimper.
Of course the two halves of the City could not be in two contrasting places. When in the last few games either side of the Champions League games City could unload their bench of talent to continue their run. United on the other hand threw Van De Beek, Mata, Matic and a few debutants into the fray.
Club legend Rio Ferdinand was flabbergasted at the lineup and even though he accepted the difficult situation he also felt they were lambs to the slaughter. Labelling the team “thrown together” it must have gutted the proud former captain to concede a title in this manner. A player who gave sweat and blood to the cause. Not in his day.
Red versus Blue
This of course raises the question. What is more important to Manchester United? Denying their City neighbours the easiest of title finishes or damaging that crucial Top4 place of West Ham and Liverpool.
It’s been 10 years since the greatest finish of all time when Aguero placed the ball into the net and a dagger in red hearts. This was the last time United realistically had a chance of title success. Would that burn long enough to remember?
For those old enough to remember the 1995 match day final when Liverpool took on then leaders Blackburn Rovers as United played West Ham. The stunned silence when Liverpool took the lead and the final emotions when West Ham managed to hold out for a draw. Imagine Liverpool sent out the reserves!
Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish was the then Blackburn manager. The Merseysiders were already out of the title race. Sir Alex suggested that integrity would be upheld, maybe more in hope than in expectancy. There were no excuses after 90 mins when Liverpool gave them the boost they needed.
Now he has played his hand. The intentions are clear. United play Liverpool on Thursday. With fixtures known before the Roma game they decided that both Villa and Liverpool would see the full strength United lineup.
Without kicking a ball both West Ham and Liverpool will both feel damage has been done twice over. With their rivals in Leicester getting 3 easy points and the chances of what was already an outside opportunity has now become improbable.
I have a feeling though that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will not be losing too much sleep as he is given a bye due to the conditions that were forced upon him. He may even get a little bit more praise from home fans as he prepares to deliver a hammer blow to Liverpool on Thursday.
Football is as usual the loser in all this. Fans are denied a closer race. United viewers were denied seeing their stars play against Leicester. The Premier League were unable to find a solution to a small crisis. It will not matter to the Blue side of Manchester but something like this will not be forgiven too easily in London and Merseyside.