Taking the Michael

Image: Nicholas: praised Sunderland's midfield

Charlie Nicholas felt sorry for Michael Owen after Sir Alex Ferguson got his tactics wrong at Sunderland.

Charlie feels sorry for Owen after substitution

Sunderland 0-0 Man Utd
Soccer Saturday analysis

Did Sir Alex Ferguson choose the wrong team to face Sunderland? Soccer Saturday's Charlie Nicholas certainly felt the Manchester United manager may have got his tactics wrong after watching their 0-0 draw at the Stadium of Light. Nicholas was surprised to see United start with Federico Macheda and Michael Owen in attack, but Owen was taken off at half-time and replaced by the influential Dimitar Berbatov. And while Nicholas had sympathy for Owen, he said it was a big decision that perhaps needed to be made. "Most managers, including Alex Ferguson would tend to give you 60-65 minutes," Nicholas explained. "Michael Owen hardly had any service. It wasn't as if I was turning around and watching Michael Owen thinking 'he's not got the effort, he's not trying to link up'. "Macheda and Owen, I know you can use them in the Carling Cup, but Sunderland away is a tough game. They were on the back foot and they couldn't get any supply from midfield because Sunderland were closing them down so well. "It had to come from wider areas, but unfortunately Nani didn't give them very much to thrive on. "Big sympathy for Michael Owen. How will he feel tonight? He's taken off at half time and he's not really had any opportunities whatsoever. "But big managers make big decisions."


More encouraging for Manchester United was the return to Premier League action of England captain Rio Ferdinand. After playing in the midweek 1-0 Champions League win at Valencia, Ferdinand helped United record a second consecutive clean sheet - and Nicholas felt his centre-back partnership with Nemanja Vidic looked solid. "Rio wasn't particularly troubled today," Nicholas continued. "Bent got across him a couple of times with headers, but Rio didn't look as though he was overworked; he's that classy Rolls Royce type and just strolls along. "Vidic was his usual aggressive self and did pretty well. It's no surprise that the two of them back in the heart of defence made them pretty solid. "The goalkeeper was fairly comfortable until near the end."
Good things
Nicholas also had praise for Sunderland, insisting they were the better side and had more chances to win the game. And he reserved particular praise for the young midfield duo of Lee Cattermole and Jordan Henderson. "There's a lot of good things in there," Nicholas said. "The emergence of Cattermole and Henderson as two central midfielders is pretty good for the manager. "You're looking at good youth, good legs in terms of getting about the pitch and squeezing the game, but also pretty comfortable on the ball. "Henderson's got two nice feet and passes it quite cleverly. He likes to get forward. "Sunderland were the better team for me and I think Alex Ferguson will look at this and think 'we didn't play well enough to win it.'"

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