Fergie to Draw on Reserves of Power
Byline: by IAN LADYMAN
MANCHESTER United, and indeed the Premier League, have been here before. United are seeking to rest players ahead of a Champions League final with Barcelona and the Premier League -- not to mention its bottom three or four clubs -- are getting very jumpy.
Two years ago Sir Alex Ferguson took his team to relegation-threatened Hull's KC Stadium as Premier League champions. United were flooded with reserve players but managed to win 1-0. In the end Hull stayed up and Phil Brown sang on the pitch.
This time round it may not be so simple. There will not be any singing but there could yet be some wailing.
With United champions again and facing their foes from Catalonia on May 28, they will play 18th-placed Blackpool at home this Sunday. The Premier League -- along with Wigan, Birmingham, Wolves and Blackburn -- will be watching carefully when the team sheets appear at 3.30pm at Old Trafford.
The Premier League were alerted to this possibility a couple of weeks ago and have long since suspected that one of their least favourite issues may crop up. Ferguson has at least indicated that he too is aware of the problem and has guaranteed nothing less than a professional effort to win the game. Ferguson said: 'This gives us a real opportunity to look at how we can rest players and who needs to keep going. But we have a responsibility to make sure we are fair to all clubs who are struggling against relegation.
'Manchester United will try to win next Sunday, there is no doubt about that.' There is no reason not to take Ferguson at his word. So professional were his players at Hull two years ago that they could have won by a street.
Also, Ferguson's primary duty is to his own club. If teams go down this Sunday it will not be because of one game at Old Trafford, rather the 37 that have gone before.
However, the Premier League's Rule E20 states: 'In every League match each participating club should field a full-strength team.' That wording seems unambiguous, but history tells us otherwise -- and it is highly unlikely the League would get involved unless Ferguson chose a virtual youth team. United, for example, were not fined for fielding a team against Hull that included not one of the players who started against Barcelona in Rome three days later.
Nor were they fined when an under-strength United side lost 1-0 at home to West Ham on the final day of the 2006-07 season, even though Ferguson felt so bad about it that he phoned Neil Warnock, the manager of relegated Sheffield United, to apologise. …