Ferguson on back foot after Benfica ordeal
Sir Alex Ferguson found himself answering some unwelcome questions after Manchester United were brought down to earth by Benfica in their opening UEFA Champions League game on Wednesday.
Flying domestically, where an unprecedented 18-goal spree has put them top of the Premier League after four games, a much-changed United team looked second-best during the 1-1 draw at Estadio da Luz. Having conceded their first goal away from home in the Champions League since March 2010, Ferguson's side might even have lost had it not been for the alert reflexes of second-choice goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard.
The 27-year-old, making his first ever competition appearance, kept Benfica at bay with a string of eye-catching stops, most notably thwarting Nolito when the Benfica substitute took aim from close range in the 66th minute. Lindegaard was a surprise inclusion ahead of David de Gea and Ferguson bristled when asked whether the Dane had now moved ahead of the 20-year-old Spaniard in the Old Trafford goalkeeping hierarchy.
"I don't know why you ask these questions," snapped Ferguson when asked by a television reporter if Lindegaard would play against Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday. "You're just looking for stupid, little things."
Ferguson has been keen to protect de Gea after his United career got off to a jittery start following his close-season move from Atletico Madrid. Some high-profile errors of judgement prompted media speculation that the Spanish under-21 international might be dropped, but Ferguson insisted that rotation between him and Lindegaard was a pre-arranged strategy.
"We've got two great goalkeepers," explained the United manager in his post-game press conference. "We're always trying to work out how to share things. David will play on Sunday against Chelsea.
"Coming into the English game is frenetic and tense. He (de Gea) is a young goalkeeper and there will be times when I will give him a break. He had a great game on Saturday and that's why I decided to give him a break."
Despite making eight changes to the team that demolished Bolton 5-0 on Saturday, Ferguson could find no place in his starting XI for Dimitar Berbatov. The joint-top Premier League scorer with 20 goals last term, Berbatov has made just one substitute appearance in the league this season and remained on the bench despite United's need for a winning goal on Wednesday.
With Javier Hernandez Ferguson's first-choice partner for Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck impressive in recent weeks, the Bulgarian's United future looks bleak, but Ferguson says he still has a role to play. "It's hard because of all the strikers we have," he said. "Michael Owen is there, Federico Macheda, Mame Biram Diouf. It's not easy. Welbeck will be back (from injury) too - not next week but the week after.
"Dimitar has been training terrifically. His attitude is spot-on. He'll get his game time, there's no question about that. As the season wears on, we're into European football, there's the League Cup and league games, so there's plenty of occasions."
Ferguson's opposite number Jorge Jesus said he was thrilled by his side's performance against "one of the best three teams in the world". Oscar Cardozo put the hosts in front with a neat turn and finish in the 24th minute, and United required a fine strike from Ryan Giggs to draw level three minutes before half-time.
The second half was largely one-way traffic, however, with Lindegaard saving brilliantly from Nolito and the impressive Nicolas Gaitan before Nolito squandered a late chance when he rolled the ball into the side netting.
Having seen United salvage a point from their most testing Group C fixture, Ferguson might not be unduly concerned by his side's performance, but United's early-season air of invincibility is no more.