When Alex Ferguson announced the team-sheet for the match against Galatasaray, you could be forgiven to think that the team would be overrun by the counter-attacking play of the Turks.
It was after all the third youngest starting lineup that Man Utd has ever selected in a Champions League game. Barring Micheal Carrick and Darren Fletcher, all the other players were in their early 20’s. But what transpired in the match can only be described as a peek into the future of Manchester United.
It will actually be pretty interesting to see if Ferguson keeps some of the youngsters in the team for the match against QPR. After all, manager Mark Hughes has been sacked and the team is in tatters anyway — perfect opportunity to unleash the youngsters once again.
Post the Galatasaray match, Ferguson said he was impressed with what he saw: "I think they handled the atmosphere and the temperament was good. I thought we did enough, especially in the first half. I thought the young players did fantastic and they will only get better playing in an atmosphere like that."
The 1-0 score line didn't tell the whole story. Yes, the young guns lost the match, but for 90 minutes they held their own against a physically dominating Galatasaray side and even had a couple of decent chances to get the scores level.
When it was time to defend, the whole team rallied to repel the counter attacks with even Danny Welbeck coming back to help win the ball. And when they attacked, it was with a ferocity and pace that was so evidently lacking during last weekend’s Premiership match against Norwich.
The loss to the Canaries came as Ryan Giggs marshaled attacking midfield for 90 minutes and with Paul Scholes coming on in the 70th minute. Both the veterans could not find an equaliser and it has to sadly be said that Ferguson is in a fix whether to rely on old heads or risk the new ones — and hopefully the show against Galatasaray should go some way in solving that.
The midfield with the likes of Tom Cleverley, Anderson and Nick Powell showed the kind of quality United has on the bench and given enough opportunities in the first team can mature quickly into better players. More importantly they can plug the huge gap that was so evident in last weekend’s match.
With a tackle winning ratio of nearly 94%, the midfield duo of Fletcher and Anderson showed Ferguson that he can look elsewhere and doesn’t have to play the ageing Carrick week-in week-out. Anderson also bombed forward on regular intervals and kept possession of the ball that is so crucial in winning midfield battles. It is little wonder then, when he came off in the 74th minute, United couldn’t keep the same level of possession.
Powell made a few mistakes that are expected from a rookie on a big European night. But he showed enough glimpses of talent to prove why the manager rates him so highly. He wasn’t fazed by the rough tackling Felipe Melo and was also the player who came closest to scoring with his thunderous header denied by the post.
Welbeck was all over the pitch, winning the ball deep, holding the ball for Hernandez to run and also trying to score himself. He is far from a finished product himself, and has to improve on his finishing but is slowly getting there—as evident in leading the England national attack.
Ferguson did well to put a young side against the Turkish champions. The experience they gained is invaluable. But unlike when the young team gave up too easily in big matches, leaving the manager to give the excuse of youth and inexperience, this time they proved their value.
With players like Ryan Tunnicliffe, Scott Wooton and Robbie Brady also knocking on the doors, it is a wake-up call for the seniors to pull up their socks and work harder. These young players are extremely talented, hungry for game time and pushing for a spot.