With a UEFA Champions League match against Olympique Marseille looming on Tuesday and a variety of players unavailable due to injury, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has a serious selection dilemma on his hands for the FA Cup quarterfinal match against Arsenal. It seems like it's been a very long time since Ferguson, who has built the deepest squad in English football, has been forced into considering what players need to be conserved and at what positions he has available, healthy bodies. Seven of his first team players have injuries that will prevent them from playing in either Saturday's game or Tuesday's game, and three of his players are unlikely to be fit enough to start both matches.
Let's start by taking a look at the players that Ferguson does not have available, and how that might affect his team selection.
This list includes United's three best wide players in Nani, Park, and Valencia. The last of those players has been injured for quite some time, but the other two have picked up injuries very recently. If they were healthy, Nani and Park would be virtual locks to start on either side of a central striker against Marseille on Tuesday. Their absence leaves Ferguson with some tough decisions, and they probably force him into a formation change as well.
Additionally, if you've stumbled upon this post and you have some kind of passing interest in Manchester United, I probably don't have to explain to you how important the absence of Rio Ferdinand is from the United lineup. Some might argue that Nemanja Vidic is the more important player to the Red Devils at this point, but Rio Ferdinand is still a world class central defender.
Evans is just returning from an injury layoff, while Giggs and Scholes are, unfortunately, old. All three of these players seem likely first choice selections against Marseille, which means they're unlikely to start against Arsenal.
Ferguson probably wants to give these guys a run-out: Javier Hernandez, Rafael
Hernandez and Rafael are both talented young players who have shown off their potential in the opportunities they've gotten for United this season, but both are unlikely to be first choice against Marseille. As a result, even though likely starters John O'Shea and Dimitar Berbatov, can probably go 90 minutes in back to back games, Ferguson could opt to play it safe and rest them just to give Chicharito and Rafael some playing time.
So, this leads us to the Marseille lineup. After a 0-0 draw at the Velodrome, Ferguson is almost certainly prioritizing that game over the FA Cup. With the injuries that United has, they're going to need Evans, Giggs, and Scholes to be ready to go 90 minutes in that game. Ferguson would probably prefer to play Darren Fletcher in the center of midfield, but injuries could push him into a right midfield spot. Additionally, Ferguson's first choice team for Champions League is probably a 4-5-1 with two of Nani, Valencia, and Park wide, but the lack of availability for all three players could lead to Ferguson selecting a team in a 4-4-2 formation.
Projected Manchester United lineup vs. Marseille (4-4-2): Van Der Sar; Evra, Evans, Vidic, O'Shea; Giggs, Scholes, Carrick, Fletcher; Berbatov, Rooney
So, there have to be some changes from that lineup to Saturday. Based on everything discussed above, here's a crack at Saturday's lineup.
Projected Manchester United lineup vs. Arsenal (4-4-2): Van Der Sar; Evra, Smalling, Vidic, Rafael; Obertan, Gibson, Carrick, Fletcher; Hernandez, Rooney
It's far from an ideal situation for United, but something tells me that Sir Alex will discern how to deal with his selection dilemmas without too much of a problem.