United’s fitness concerns were a cause for real headache for manager Sir Alex Ferguson, but he did manage to name a strong squad including the likes of Michael Carrick, Nemanja Vidic, Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher, and Dimitar Berbatov, who were all overcoming a bout of flu. There was also the surprise inclusion of Nani, who was supposedly still unfit following a groin injury last week.
The match was a cagey affair, with both managers employing a 4-5-1 formation, and the congested midfield cancelled each team’s attack out. Still, as time went on United got a stronger foothold in the match and dominated possession, although they had little to show for it in terms of clear-cut chances. Both defenses were solid, and goalkeepers Edwin Van der Sar and Joe Hart were hardly called upon.
The match was a shadow of the 4-3 thriller at Old Trafford last season, though that was perhaps unsurprising given the amount at stake not only in league position, but also local bragging rights. The draw, coupled with wins for Chelsea and Arsenal, mean that Chelsea now have a 4-point edge at the top of the Premier League table, while three points separate second place United, third place Arsenal, and fourth place City.
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Ian Holloway is known for his honest, no-nonsense demeanor, and he has stayed true to form in a recent brush with the FA. Holloway made 10 changes to the Blackpool side that drew 2-2 with Everton last weekend, and the Premier League is reportedly going to write the manager to seek an explanation for the “weakened” team. According to Premier League Rule E20, “In every league match each participating club shall field a full strength team”.
Last season, Wolves were fined £25,000 under similar circumstances after manager Mick McCarthy made wholesale changes to his squad for a match against Manchester United. However, Holloway defended his selection, saying, “I’m the manager and I manage the players how I want. If some bright spark from the Premier League wants to tell me who I can pick then come and have a cup of coffee and you’ll probably get it chucked in your lap.”
“We’ve got four games in 12 days and the lads I’ve played every week are struggling to keep up the level,” he said. “How dare anyone tell me the players I’ve been working with, I can’t give them a chance. Tonight they have enhanced their reputation.”
He also stated that he will resign if the Premier League does fine him for his team selection.
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Up in Newcastle, the high-flying Toon Army have received a blow in the form of a suspension for Joey Barton. The often controversial and troublesome midfielder was charged with violent conduct after punching Blackburn’s Morten Gamst Pederson at St. James’ Park on Wednesday, and he will be out of the side for matches against Fulham, Bolton, and Chelsea.
“I would like to apologise to [Magpies boss] Chris Hughton, my team-mates, our fans and of course to Morten Gamst Pedersen and Blackburn,” Barton said. “I fully accept that I was in the wrong on this occasion and accept the charge that the Football Association have brought against me.”
Newcastle are currently in 5th place in the league, just four points behind Manchester City.