Football: UNITED GO INTO BATTLE ON TWO FRONTS; FERGIE PLANS DOUBLE JEOPARDY FOR PRETENDERS TO PREMIERSHIP CROWN I Want to Try Different Things - and I Have the Squad to Do It -ALEX FERGUSON -ALEX FERGUSON
Byline: PAUL HETHERINGTON
TO quote a much-used football cliche: "Every game is a big game." Unless, that is, you happen to be Manchester United.
Sir Alex Ferguson appears to be adopting a slightly different appoach as he prepares for his final season in charge at Old Trafford.
Because according to Fergie - and this is not what United's rivals wanted to hear - his squad is now so strong that he can afford to run one team for the big games and another for what he sees as the not-so-important matches.
The big games will be in the Champions League, with the aim of regaining Europe's most coveted prize at the top of his agenda. You can also expect to see a full-strength side for the games against their main rivals for the Premiership.
The United "second team" will be called into action for the other games, giving star turns like Juan Sebastian Veron and Ruud van Nistelrooy time to recharge their batteries.
Fergie revealed his thinking here in Kuala Lumpar as he prepared for United's opening pre-season fixture against Malaysia in the Bukit Jalil national stadium, which will be packed tonight with 85,000 fans. And he admitted the arrival of pounds 28.1million Veron and pounds 19million van Nistelrooy will enable him to implement his new policy.
"Veron and van Nistelrooy will be key players for us in Europe and I will have a team for the Champions League and the big Premiership games," said Fergie. "But Veron, for instance, will need a breather and I will have to change the formation at times. Those changes will be made in Premiership games, and I have the squad to do that.
"I want to try different things this season. At times I will operate with three in midfield, rather than 4-4-2, and I will also at times move Veron and Paul Scholes further forward.
"Don't forget, when Paul first came to this club he was a centre-forward. He is a fantastic goalscorer, not just for us, but also for England."
Ferguson's A-Team could see Scholes playing just behind van Nistelrooy with a midfield four of David Beckham, Roy Keane, Veron and Ryan Giggs.
But with that personnel, he could also play 4-3-3, with Beckham, Keane and Veron in the middle and a front three of Scholes, van Nistelrooy and Giggs.
United, therefore, could line up like this in their big games in the new season: Barthez; G Neville, Brown, Stam, Silvestre; Beckham, Keane, Veron, Giggs; Scholes; van Nistelrooy.
But even if he takes key players out for certain games, he will still be able to field a powerful side. He could even rest the lot and still field a team like this: van der Gouw; P Neville, Wallwork, Johnstone, Irwin; Chadwick, Stewart, Butt, Solskjaer; Cole, Yorke.
Then there are players like the experienced David May, South African international Quinton Fortune and England Under-21 regulars Jonathan Greening and Mark Wilson. It's a sobering thought for United's rivals.
Fergie knows his players inside out - and he senses the signings of Veron and van Nistlerooy have stimulated the champions' dressing-room. …