Manchester United’s starting XI for the FA Cup clash against Leicester raised some eyebrows.
Despite being the last game before an international break, United rested some of their key players – and suffered as a consequence.
United’s top performers this season have been Bruno Fernandes and Luke Shaw. Yet the duo were left on the bench until the 64th minute. By that time, the visitors were 2-1 down and very much second-best.
If United had another huge match on the horizon, resting their key men would have made sense. Instead, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was, in essence, giving them a breather not for his own benefit but for their international coaches.
And here is the kicker: neither man started for their country last week.
Shaw watched England’s entire match from the bench while Fernandes came on for Portugal at half-time. There are bigger games to come for their respective countries. Yet the simple fact is, the United duo should have started in the FA Cup.
It was a huge match against a top opponent and United could not afford to go in half-hearted.
Had they won, United would be looking ahead to a very winnable semi-final and potentially their first showpiece event under Solskjaer. Instead, the Red Devils’ only chance of silverware is the Europa League.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing in football, as in life, but one wonders why United did not go as strong as possible in the cup clash.
Why get that far only to play second-string stars when the next domestic match is a fortnight away?
A missed opportunity
United are not the same team without Shaw and Fernandes in their starting XI.
Of those who were benched for the quarter-final, only Scott McTominay started for his country in midweek.
Solskjaer’s job is to ensure United are fighting on all fronts and, given how things played out, it is bizarre to look back on that team selection.
United’s players may well have been tired after their exploits in Europe. But they could have fought for one more match.
Had United played their strongest possible XI, we could have been planning for a FA Cup final come May.