Some with too many preconceptions will be surprised to hear that there are many occasions when I’m in full agreement with Sir Alex Ferguson: such as the scathing criticism he made in the build up to Saturday’s game about those fans who scandalously taunt others about Munich or Hillsborough.
I am as sickened as he is.
Then, there are times I scratch my head wondering what on earth the Manchester United manager is thinking: such as the team he selected against Liverpool.
That he was concerned about his defence beforehand is not in doubt. He’d have been foolish to ignore the signs in performances against Stoke, Basel and Norwich. He worried about his team being “wide open.” But where does dropping Wayne Rooney fit in to that equation?
Look, Rooney is probably the best player currently produced by these islands. You DON’T leave him out unless he’s injured or suspended. I don’t care what’s going on in his mind. Ferguson should have pinned Rooney up against the dressing room wall and told him to keep his temper, don’t do anything stupid — yes, I know, that might be asking a lot — and get out there: prove your detractors wrong.
And all this uncertainty about ‘how to deal with Rooney has consequences for his country too.
I gather Fabio Capello is dreading facing ‘the six million questions’ heading his way between now and next summer about whether or not he will include Rooney in the squad for Poland/Ukraine: a word of advice for the England coach? Say now you’ll be thinking only about selecting the remaining 22 because Rooney’s already in the party.
But the United boss went further than merely leaving out Rooney: Nani, Hernandez and Anderson, all recent ‘regular’ selections, were on the bench alongside the England striker. So much for my thought that Ferguson would undoubtedly go with his strongest available team!
Instead, it was a drastically weakened line-up with a peculiar shape. I know that Jones is considered versatile and that he’d previously played a defensive midfield role for Blackburn but why was he detailed to be so close to Charlie Adam you thought the two might be secretly engaged? It was a massive and probably undue compliment to the Liverpool player.
Perhaps it was a ‘slight’ on the opposition. Perhaps Sir Alex thinks the result justified the method. If so, he’s fooling himself and he’d better not try anything so rash on Sunday against the new league leaders.
As for Liverpool, they’ll be kicking themselves that they didn’t win the game as they certainly should have done. They dominated in most areas and, even after Hernandez’s late equaliser, Dalglish’s team had chances to score a second or even a third.
Dalglish said the performance showed the undoubted strides Liverpool have made over the last year since the ownership changed and particularly since he replaced Hodgson. Liverpool ARE moving forward. I give them a good chance of getting into the top four. But they’re not without problems, such as spending £35 million on a striker and then not playing him against Manchester United!