Young Stars and Old Heads See United Through

Alex StampCorrespondent IJanuary 20, 2009

A fine first half performance was enough to see Manchester United through to the Carling Cup final, though they had to survive a spirited second half fightback by Derby County.


Sir Alex Ferguson named a strong, if slightly experimental outfit, comprising both young and experienced players, illustrating the gradual evolution that is taking place in this United team.


Nothing exemplified this more than the sight of Rafael playing at right back, while Gary Neville, for so long United's loyal servant at right back, was utilised in a more unfamiliar role at centre back.


This was a pattern replicated across the field–old and new working in tandem, with Nani and Giggs on the wings, Gibson-bearing an uncanny likeness to Michael Carrick-and Anderson in midfield, Welbeck and Tevez up front.


For Ferguson, the performances of his young starlets will have arguably been the most pleasing aspect of last night's display.


Rafael da Silva, before he hobbled off just before half time, once again showed that he could well be a right-sided version of Patrice Evra in the near future.


He showed his fine offensive skills with a fine cross to set up Tevez for United's third, and should he hone the defensive side of his game, he could be keeping Neville out of the right back position for much longer.


Danny Welbeck, illustrated precisely why Ferguson is so excited by his potential, with a bright and lively display that saw him provide an assist for O'Shea, and put Tevez through to win the penalty that Ronaldo tucked away.


While Nani responded to any criticism of his first leg performance in the best possible way with a sumptuous opener and a lively performance.


Finally, and most pleasingly from an England perspective, Ben Foster made an appearance in a United shirt, though he had little to do besides pick the ball out of his net twice, as he was helpless to save either of Derby's goals.


It must be said that while United's group of youngsters draw far less attention and praise than Arsenal's, on this evidence they appear to be lacking nothing in terms of potential compared to their Emirates rivals, albeit against limited, yet determined, opposition.


While United's old heads seemed to be in cruise control, with Giggs, Neville and Tevez offering a calming influence right across the field, and only when Neville and Giggs departed did Derby look like threatening a comeback.


A word must be afforded for Derby County, who took advantage of a weakened United back four, with Fletcher at right back, Evans injured and Chester making his debut, to briefly threaten.


The eye-catching performances of Kris Commons, who was bright throughout and second-half substitute Giles Barnes, returning from a long term lay off with two goals, allied to a fine, fighting second half display will have delighted manager Nigel Clough.


His counterpart, Sir Alex Ferguson was obviously delighted with the performance of his side, and after the match stated: “Finals are always hard to get to and the young lads have done fantastic to be there.” He also described United's first half performance as “absolutely brilliant.


Ferguson then went on to confirm that he will be sticking with his young side for the final, and on tonight's showing, that final could well be the first of many for this young and promising United team.