Manchester United used one substitute at half time in the game against Southampton bringing on Wes Brown for Fabio at full back. United trailed 1-0 at the break and after about ten minutes of the second half Sir Alex Ferguson decided it was time to stir things up.
As Giggs and Nani stood ready to enter the game with over 30 minutes remaining colour commentator Matt Jackson noted that the Manchester United manager was taking a big risk.
After all an injury – or even injuries – would force United to play with less than their full complement of players for however long was left in the match.
Not wishing to call Jackson to task on the comment because he only said what millions of viewers probably thought, but…….was it really that much of a risk?
United were playing a team two divisions below them but were trailing 1-0. The chances were heavily in favour of United dominating possession for the remainder of the game (despite playing so badly to that point) given their superior technical skill.
That advantage would stand up whether they had ten or eleven players on the field.
Such United domination and their greater ability to manage the game would very likely lead to Southampton tiring to a significant extent especially in the last quarter of an hour of the match.
What’s more if Southampton continued to lead, or even if the game was tied, the human reaction (as the underdog) would be to hold what they had and defend ever deeper as the game progressed.
This scenario would surely mean that United would have little in the way of Southampton attacks to be concerned with over the last 30 minutes.
All these points add up to Fergie’s move being less of a risk (certainly not a big risk) and more of a case of an experienced manager assessing the situation with a cool head.
He decided that his best course of action was to shake the team up and to give the two substitutes enough time to impact the match.
In addition, the message was also sent to the eleven players on the field after the double-substitution that it was up to them and they had no other option but to get the job done – whether they be tired or injured.
For another manager in another situation the move might have been a very risky one but for Manchester United in Saturday’s specific situation it was not.
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