Manchester United tested its squad depth in the Champions League against Bursaspor Tuesday night. United only brought 20 players with them to Turkey and fielded a depleted squad. Things weren't looking any better when both Nani and Darren Fletcher had to come off due to injuries. United weren't phased as they picked up a 3-0 victory, giving them 10 points in the group and essentially earning a spot in the knockout round.
Manchester United were nearly able to field a starting XI of just players they were missing due to injury. Gary Neville, Jonny Evans, Rio Ferdinand, Anderson, and Federico Macheda were all left behind in addition to long term absentee's Wayne Rooney, Antonio Valencia, Michael Owen, and Ryan Giggs.
United's starting XI looked weaker then normal. With just two strikers to choose from, Sir Alex Ferguson opted to start Dimitar Berbatov and leave in form striker Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez on the bench. This could have been done either to give him a rest, or to prevent United from losing more strikers. Sir Alex also opted to give Gabriel Obertan his first Champions League start, ahead of Ji-Sung Park.
Things would only get worse for United when Nani would be added to the list of injured players with a groin injury just 29 minutes into the match. If Nani has to miss an extended period of time it would be a double blow to United as he has been United most in form player all season and United are already without Antonio Valencia and Ryan Giggs.
WIth Park on to replace Nani it looked as if United had a very defensive team on the pitch and it was easy to wonder where United would be able to get a goal from.
That question was answered in the 48th minute when Michael Carrick did an excellent job to pick out Darren Fletcher in the box as the Scot fired in his second career Champions League goal.
There was more bad news for United though, when Fletcher needed to be subbed off with an apparent ankle injury in the 63rd minute.
Manchester United started the match with what seemed to be a very weak team, it would only get worse when Nani and Fletcher, United's two best players this season had to come off. But United's players did not put their heads down.
When top players go down, it is the responsibility of the rest of the team to raise their own games to make up for the loss, and United's young players did exactly that. In the absence of Nani and Fletcher, Gabriel Obertan stepped up to fire in his first competitive goal in a Manchester United shirt.
They weren't done there. Just one week after scoring his first goal for United, Bebe, who replaced Fletcher, added a third goal for United to definitively settle the matter.
Say what you want about United's slow start to the domestic campaign but with the win United have now improved to being unbeaten in their last 23 matches in all competitions. United are the only team in England that has not suffered a loss this season.
You would have to go back to April 3rd 2010 to find the last time United lost. That match was a 2-1 loss to Chelsea that would not have been a loss if the linesman had simply looked up and noticed that Didier Drogba was about three yards offside.
For all the criticism that Sir Alex Ferguson has faced this season about his team selection, and relying too much on the young guys. And for all the drama United have been through with Wayne Rooney's off the field headlines and poor form on the field, United have still not lost a match this season.
Despite injuries it has been 23 matches since the last United loss and it now looks like United are beginning to find their form. They suffered two more injuries Tuesday night, and they managed to overcome them both, but they must hope that neither injury is serious.
Fletcher and Nani have both been extremely important to United's success this season. If they are out long term, that might be just too much for United to overcome in the long term.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!