Although Manchester United don't have a definitive second unit, that is really a huge advantage for the club.
While weaker EPL teams may have just enough quality players to fill their starting lineups, United has a deep and talented squad, allowing Sir Alex Ferguson to be extremely flexible with his lineups.
Based on players' form or injuries, he can organize and rotate the starting XI without the club missing a beat at all.
Because of United's fluid rotation, guidelines must be set to determine the closest thing that United have to a second unit.
They are as follows:
- The player has started fewer than 14 of United's 27 EPL matches, not due to injury. This eliminates Nani (per BBC Sport), Phil Jones (per The Sun), Shinji Kagawa (per BBC Sport) and Nemanja Vidic (per The Mirror), who are usually starters when they're not hurt.
- The player has started fewer than three of United's last five games in all competitions.
Following these rules, and keeping United's 4-4-1-1 formation intact, the Reds' formation would probably look something like this:
United's second unit, while weaker, would follow the same theme of the current first unit: a strong attack carrying an inconsistent back line.
Despite the sufficient EPL experience of Chris Smalling and Antonio Valencia, Alexander Büttner and Scott Wooton have just one combined league start this year. All of these players have shown flashes of potential, but their collective lack of game experience could possibly overshadow their talent.
The most stable member of this back line very well may be keeper Anders Lindegaard, who has proved to be a capable replacement for David De Gea when needed.
Their midfield and attack would leave less to desire for Sir Alex, boasting veterans Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, and super-sub Javier Hernandez.
What Scholes and Giggs would bring to the table is their savvy field smarts, but would also lack the speed and endurance to really sustain United's free-flowing style of play.
So how would they fare in the EPL?
The use of this lineup—an intriguing mixture of experience of youth—would allow for the club to still have success, but nowhere near the vicinity of a title.
The closest comparison that comes to mind would be Liverpool, a club with a shaky defense but tons of offensive firepower, like United. While the Reds' attack would be led by Hernandez and Welbeck, Liverpool's offense is currently fueled by Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge—also quality players.
Just as United would have the youthful Powell, Wooton and Büttner playing significant roles, Liverpool have given significant roles to Andre Wisdom and Raheem Sterling, who are 19 and 18 years old respectively.
Just as United would have the seasoned Scholes and Giggs in their midfield, Liverpool have Steven Gerrard to lead their squad. Although Gerrard has significantly more left in the tank than Scholes and Giggs (at least six years younger than both) at this point in his career, they all play invaluable leadership roles for their clubs that can only come with years of excellence in the sport.
With a young, but talented group like Liverpool, it would be expected that United's second unit have slip-ups versus weaker sides that set them back and lower their confidence, akin to Liverpool's lofty defeats versus Aston Villa and Stoke City.
It would also be expected that United would have some extremely encouraging outings, proving that they can go toe-to-toe with the league's best, but not quite join the upper echelons of the EPL. A prime example of this for Liverpool was their 2-2 tie versus Manchester City, where the club played perhaps their best football of the year but squandered their lead after a Pepe Reina miscue.
With a clear downgrade from their current XI, the talent of United's second unit would still be enough for the Reds to be successful, just not in the sense of the club's illustrious history.
A sixth- to eighth-place finish would likely be earned, reinforcing once again the sheer depth of their squad.
(All stats and info via ESPN FC)