Early Doors

Tiredness no excuse for United in Madrid

Early Doors pities Sir Alex Ferguson.

Only 72 hours to recover after opening a 12-point gap in the league ahead of a lucrative Champions League tie against Real Madrid?

In such desperate circumstances, who wouldn't feel the whole world was conspiring against them?

Hard as it is to feel sympathy, Fergie does seem to have a point. Of the four teams in Champions League action on Wednesday, only United played on Sunday.

Madrid and Dortmund played on Saturday, while Shakhtar Donetsk haven't played a meaningful game since December, the lucky so-and-sos.

Fergie railed at the Premier League for arranging games with scant regard for teams' European prospects, and threatened to field a shadow side against Everton on Sunday.

In the event, Fergie had a great weekend as Manchester City slumped to a hilariously inept defeat at Southampton, and a strong United team beat Everton.

So why the near-full strength XI?

"I was going to make seven changes," Ferguson said after the game.

"Then when I got the (City) result I thought this would be a more important game for us. It would give us a comfortable lead and we could make changes later on in the season."

The logic of this eludes Early Doors.

If you're willing to risk making changes when your lead could be cut to six points (i.e. if City had won), why put out a full-strength side when the worst-case scenario is a nine-point gap?

The answer would seem to be Ferguson's desire to deliver a knockout blow to City - but there's no way of breaking it down that made yesterday's game "more important".

If your priority is to win the league, you'd put out your strongest team against Everton under all circumstances.

If your priority is to win the Champions League, you'd rest players against Everton under all circumstances.

And if, as is probably the case, you're trying to win both, surely a result that makes you more likely to win the league (City's defeat) would be more likely to make you rest your players ahead of the Champions League game?

Of course you'd try and beat Everton, but if the consequence of losing is no worse than if you and City had both won, why wouldn't you take a punt with a weakened team?

So, United have basically clinched the league and can rest players later in the season. Rest them for what, exactly?

What bigger game is Fergie waiting for than Real Madrid away? Most likely, United will be out of Europe - why exactly would they need to keep their powder dry for an FA Cup sixth round tie against MK Dons?

In any case, there's no conclusive evidence that an extra 24 hours makes any difference.

It's true that when United won the Champions League in 1999, they played only one of their 13 games on three days' rest.

But so did everyone else, since all the games were played on a Wednesday.

Fast forward to 2007/08 and United played the following games:
Sporting Lisbon 0-1 Man Utd (4 days after previous game)
Man Utd 1-0 Roma (3 days)
Dynamo Kiev 2-4 Man Utd (3 days)
Man Utd 4-0 Dynamo Kiev (4 days)
Man Utd 2-1 Sporting Lisbon (3 days)
Roma 1-1 Man Utd (4 days)
Lyon 1-1 Man Utd (4 days)
Man Utd 1-0 Lyon (3 days)
Roma 0-2 Man Utd (3 days)
Man Utd 1-0 Roma (3 days)
Barcelona 0-0 Man Utd (4 days)
Man Utd 1-0 Barcelona (3 days)
Man Utd 1-1 Chelsea (10 days)

Seven of United's 13 matches were played on 72 hours' recovery, of which they won all seven.

Contrast that to last season's debaclous group stage exit:
Benfica 1-1 Man Utd (4 days)
Man Utd 3-3 Basle (3 days)
Otelul Galati 0-2 Man Utd (3 days)
Man Utd 2-0 Otelul Galati (4 days)
Man Utd 2-2 Benfica (3 days)
Basle 2-1 Man Utd (4 days)

Again, their results on three days' rest were better than on four - though the real common factor was United being rubbish.

Which is kind of the point. If United lose on Wednesday, it won't be because they played Everton on Sunday. It'll be because Real Madrid are better than them.

We obsess about match fitness and recovery times, when it is perfectly obvious that quality matters more.

England are 'too tired' to perform properly in international tournaments, yet somehow Spain managed to excel in the Euro 2012 final when many had played 60-plus matches in the previous 12 months.

We can conclude any of the following:

-Spanish players run less far than ours. (No...)
-Spanish players are fitter than ours. (Probably not...)
-Spanish players cope with tiredness better than ours. (Getting warmer...)
-Playing one football match every three days is basically fine. (Bingo!)

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Sir Alex Ferguson on Ryan Giggs: "I think the superlatives have all been used up. I don't think he needs any himself. His legacy lives on, he is just a fantastic human being."

FOREIGN VIEW: Nigeria won the African Cup of Nations thanks to a fabulous goal from Sunday Mba to give the Super Eagles a 1-0 win over Burkina Faso at Soccer City in Johannesburg.

It was a thoroughly deserved third African crown for Nigeria, who dominated the game throughout and could have had several more goals were it not for some sloppy finishing.

But Mba's splendid goal - which involved a magnificent bit of ball juggling - proved enough for them, though Burkina Faso leave South Africa with their heads held high after a wonderful run to the final.

The night belonged to Nigeria, however, with manager Stephen Keshi becoming the first man to win the tournament as both player and coach.