Update: Manchester United 1-2 Real Madrid, final. Madrid progress to Champions League quarterfinals.
Sir Alex Ferguson has left Rooney out of the starting XI for United's Champions League round of 16 second leg against Real Madrid, stunning pretty much everybody. The Fergie Special is back and it has made its appearance at the biggest of matches, something only Ferguson would ever do.
Once you get past the shock of Rooney's exclusion, though, it does make some sense. It starts with the need to provide some help for the pivot of Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick, neither of whom should be trusted to man the middle alone against a team like Madrid. Enter Ryan Giggs, who will pinch inside and add some much needed discipline and calm to a midfield that will be sorely lacking the injured Phil Jones' to mark Cristiano Ronaldo.
The problem with bringing Giggs into the team is that it can make for a very narrow team. That can be solved by pushing the fullbacks up high, but that's a disaster waiting to happen with United's defense and Madrid's ability to strike on the counterattack. That brings Nani into the team, a winger who will stay closer to the touchline than Rooney would if he was deployed out wide and provide the width United needs.
With Giggs and Nani in the team for specific tasks leaves just the two spots up top for Rooney to get into the team. Robin van Persie was always going to start this match so that's one spot down, meaning Ferguson had to choose between Rooney and Danny Welbeck. He went with the pace of Welbeck both attacking and defending, a defensible selection when you take into account his wonderful form.
So how does Rooney get left on the bench for United's biggest match of the season?
- Help the midfield.
- Get width.
- Lose a selection battle with Welbeck.