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Manchester United Player Ratings Against Braga

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Manchester United Player Ratings Against Braga
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Michael Carrick, Jonny Evans

Rating Manchester United against Braga for Tuesday's 2012 UEFA Champions League match almost demands that Sir Alex Ferguson be included.

It might seem like heresy to question the greatest football manager of all time, but what on earth was he thinking with his team selection?

Okay, so he can point to United winning and taking an arm-lock on the Group, but the result could easily have been the other way around.

Sir Alex has indicated that he will play strong teams until the Group qualification is secure. He also inevitably has to juggle his team selection to take account of the biggest match of the season against Chelsea on Sunday.

Once again, he finds himself in the same situation, one that we thought was unique last season with one of the worst injury crises ever, unable to pick a first-choice defence. But he's not making things any easier for himself, either.

United have, for more than 60 years, been a club that develops young talent. Last season, Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison and Zeki Fryers left for new pastures because they weren't getting first-team experience. Pogba has gone on to be a success at Juventus, scoring last week against Napoli.

Now we have Josh King wondering if he has to leave to get games, and Federicho Macheda's agent saying he may have to go as well. At the weekend, Sir Alex was regretting having let Ryan Shawcross go. Paul McShane also left.

And yet, Sir Alex steadfastly refuses to give youth a chance, even when a talented young player like Scott Wootton is being talked up.

So what on earth was he thinking in playing Michael Carrick at centre-back yet again, against a team with real pace in attack and at least three players comfortably over six feet tall?

It's not fair on Carrick, and its not fair on his teammates, either. Michael will always do what his manager asks, and actually, after a shaky start he played very well, breaking up a string of attacks.

Surely Scott Wootton couldn't have done a worse job than the central defence in the first twenty minutes or so? What does he have to do to get a game?

So, of course, we can understand that Sir Alex wanted to preserve at least one of his uninjured centre-backs for Chelsea at the weekend. But if Rio needed a rest, why was he on the bench?

And why is it taking so long for Chris Smalling to get fit, let alone Phil Jones?

The thing is that Wootton and Michael Keane are trained centre-backs; they understand positional sense, and they are both good headers of the ball.

So instead, we had Carrick being pulled wide and then easily skinned, Alexander Buttner finding himself marking the biggest player on the pitch for the first goal and Jonny Evans sleeping again for the second. 

It's hard enough when United can't put out their first-choice centre-backs because of injury, but Sir Alex made it a whole heap harder by playing a midfielder at centre-back, a left-back in his second game and a diamond against a team of wide players, hoping that the defence would somehow gel!

Most importantly, how many more times are United going to concede the first goal before Sir Alex sorts it out? He keeps banging on about it and says he can't understand why it happens.

It was pretty obvious on Tuesday. He played a scratch defence against the most dangerous team in the Group—they bombarded Cluj in the first match, despite losing.

Sir Alex definitely underestimated them. And on top of that, despite the exhortations, the defence was caught napping.

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