Manchester United's perfect start to the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League came to an abrupt end Tuesday when they lost 1-0 to Turkish club Galatasaray.
The Red Devils had already qualified for the knockout rounds of the competition and thus sent a squad to Istanbul that didn't feature several of their top players, and yet the baby-faced United team nearly managed to pull off some sort of a result.
Given that several players were absent from this match, it could be argued that manager Sir Alex Ferguson wasn't really taking this very seriously and, as a result, we can't really look too much into this match to see anything insightful.
The loss to Galatasaray—like any other match in world football—always gives you insights into the developments and nature of a team, and we gathered more knowledge about the mind of Sir Alex Ferguson and the way his team are playing this year from the 1-0 defeat.
Here's five points to ponder for Manchester United about the season ahead—both in England and in Europe—that we learned from the Galatasaray defeat.
This was a good opportunity for United's youth
Having already secured their place in the final 16 of the competition, the match against Galatasaray was an excellent opportunity for Sir Alex Ferguson to rest some of his veterans and more experienced players—allowing youngsters an opportunity that they would rarely receive.
Players like Nick Powell, Joshua King and Federico Macheda would simply not have been afforded the opportunity to play a road game in the Champions League this late in the season were the circumstances anything different from the current state.
For it to even be able to take place was rare; for Ferguson to actually make the most of the opportunity was something truly very wise indeed.
Especially considering the criticism—and rightly so—that the manager received for not utilizing the club's youth in their shock loss to Norwich City last weekend.
Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick were both deemed to be old and over the hill following the loss to the Canaries—making it all the more refreshing to see the likes of Powell, Darren Fletcher and Anderson operate in midfield for the Red Devils in this one.
And not only that, they held their own in one of the tougher stadiums in world football alongside players that they would rarely play with in a real game.
24y 154d - This is the 3rd youngest starting lineup (based on average age) that Man Utd have ever selected in a Champions League game. Fresh
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 20, 2012
This was good rest for United's older players
Yet whilst this was a good opportunity for United's younger players, it was also the perfect opportunity for rest and recovery for several of the club's older players.
With a growing injury list and the demands of playing in several competitions at once, many of the Red Devils' more senior players haven't been allowed the rest and recovery time that Ferguson would love to have given them so far.
Michael Carrick has played every game in the English Premier League this season; Patrice Evra has missed just one; Robin van Persie and Rio Ferdinand have missed two each. The youngest of those players is van Persie, who checks in at the youthful age of 29.
Carrick and Ferdinand—these guys need proper time for their bodies to rest and recover, and when they aren't afforded that time, United suffer on the pitch as a result.
Given their shock loss last weekend, Ferguson knows the importance of getting back on the right track and keeping pace with new league leaders Manchester City, which ultimately could well come down to how he manages his top players again this season.
Giving them time to rest in games like this is perfect.
Nick Powell has a very promising United future
Breaking into the starting lineup when you're a youngster at Manchester United is difficult. Breaking into the starting lineup as a young attacker—well, that's almost impossible given the depth of talent that United have in both midfield and up front.
However, the future of Nick Powell at Old Trafford looks strong, with the club's summer transfer pickup looking every bit the promising youngster he was made out to be.
Powell made his first-ever start for United against Galatasaray and nearly scored in the process, with his header slamming into the crossbar, but it was his work rate in attack despite less-than-desirable circumstances that stood out the most.
The 18-year-old has already been lauded as the "next Paul Scholes" by Ferguson (per The Daily Mail); with performances like the one we saw against the Turkish giants, it's little wonder that the potential on the teenager seems so high.
He wasn't United's best player on the night, and he in no way set the world on fire. But in a starting berth, in Turkey, against Galatasaray, in the Champions League, without star players around him—all of that—it was a darn good effort indeed.
The future is bright on this kid.
It's good to have Phil Jones back
Phil Jones is one of those players that every team needs to have.
He is by no means the greatest defender in the world, but he is definitely a good man to have back there and to have in your squad because he can play at a number of different positions depending on what the circumstances call for.
The England international was finally able to make his first appearance for Manchester United this season following back problems and knee surgery to begin the season (per Eurosport), and his involvement in the match was definitely a benefit for the Red Devils.
Jones isn't a central defender and will most only likely be used as cover for Nemanja Vidic in central defense if Chris Smalling is unavailable, but he will be an important asset for the Red Devils to have this year—particularly if they want to give Rafael da Silva a break at all.
Keep in mind last year that Jones was pushing Rafael for the starting spot, and whilst it appears that the Brazilian international has the job for the remainder of the season barring injury, it will provide for some good competition and security at the back for Ferguson in the process.
United won't be taking it easy on QPR this weekend
Looking at all the players that Manchester United left out of their squad and their starting lineup against Galatasaray, it's safe to say that Sir Alex Ferguson will be lining up a very strong team against Queens Park Rangers in the Premier League this weekend.
The Red Devils suffered a shock loss to Norwich City last week and only just beat Aston Villa the week before that, so Ferguson could be looking for a statement game from his side to show that they are still the team to beat in the league this year.
Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, David de Gea, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Nani, Paul Scholes—all sat of out this week's match and will be in contention for a starting berth this weekend against QPR.
It's good news for the Red Devils but not so good news for Rangers, who still are yet to win through their opening 12 games for the season.
United definitely don't want to be the team that ends that streak and need a big win to respond to City's 5-0 drubbing of Villa last weekend. Expect the two to go hand in hand as the Red Devils post up a big victory courtesy of their very strong lineup.
What did you make of United's loss to Galatasaray?
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