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I have to confess that I’m always a little uncomfortable watching any of our serious rivals play, especially when one of our games is going on at the same time and I’m channel-hopping. Either way, there is something distinctly disloyal about the whole business and I have to come up with some sort of excuse for my actions in order to assuage my feelings of guilt. Fair enough, I appreciate nobody is out there pointing the finger and saying ‘Look, he’s watching United again’, nor is anyone counting up the viewing figures…oh, hang on a minute, they are, aren’t they…and I’ve just made myself feel even more culpable! Anyway, back to the excuses and the opening round of the Champions League when it was announced late on Tuesday that ManU were making wholesale changes for their game against Rangers.

My immediate reaction was to look elsewhere for some entertainment, honest, but in the end I decided to watch with the sole intention of comparing their second battalion with the likes of ours on the following evening. After all, Carlo had declared his hand early and, even though fewer changes were made than in the cull at Old Trafford, our bench was to be warmed by kids such as Kakuta, McEachran and van Aanholt and in the current environment of youthful expectation surrounding the club…well, you know what I’m on about here. As it happened, the shuffle of United’s pack also included returns for regular first-teamers Rooney and Ferdinand, so the comparison was a fair one and I felt justified in watching. The findings turned out to be a damning indictment for the Red Devils...

Quite honestly, the ninety minutes against Rangers left me feeling somewhat annoyed at having fallen for the same old Media spiel, namely that United have one of [if not the] strongest squad in the Premiership. Going from front to back, ’Chicharito’ looked shucked to me and whilst Fergie’s little pea problem went on throughout the night he still didn’t see fit to bring on Macheda, preferring instead to ignore him and put on record a post-match regret that Berbatov wasn’t on the bench in his place! The middle third was no better, with Gibson displaying nothing more than a willingness to shoot from pretty much anywhere and Ji Sung parked before being substituted for a promising talent going under the name of Owen. This left Fletcher ’doing porridge’, much like his old TV namesake, in midfield and, if I’m a half-decent judge, he’s going to be in for many a long stretch this season covering for the old lags, Scholes and Giggs, as they serve out their time at an ever-decreasing rate.

This leads us to a defence that had a Smalling inserted in the back to assist Rio, alongside one of the Da Silva’s - which one being forever an unsolved mystery for most of us, although that in itself does have an in-built advantage because the fans never know for sure who it was who had actually turned in another of those ineffective performances. Mercifully for him, Neville was rested (no doubt ’put out to grass’ will soon be the more precise euphemism) and it must be comforting for their supporters to know that Brown and O’Shea are vying for the job as replacement. Add to this the fact that Edwin has to be counting the days to his fortieth birthday, even if it is only to claw another year closer to championing the cause for a Kuszczak takeover and get the hell outta there, and you have an overall present state of affairs that might be best described, especially by that classic old school comedian Terry Thomas, as ’a proper shower’.

So, against this backdrop, it was with a much higher degree of anticipation that I awaited the Zilina game and you have to say that Carlo, God bless him, did not disappoint. Didier, Frank and Ashley-less, the side eased into 45 minutes of terrific football that left Alan Smith bereft of his usual belittling banter, apart from a slightly disbelieving and disparaging tone when he recounted the Ancelotti quote that he’d ’never seen a striker as quick as [sturridge] is’. How marvellous it was, then, only minutes later, to see Danny leave most of Zilina for dead with his blistering pace to get on to yet another Yossi Benayoun defence-splitting pass and notch his first Champions League goal..

This double [second-string] success story might on its own have been enough to declare the comparison with United a ‘no contest‘, but more was to follow as Gael Kakuta arrived on the hour to, I kid you not, a measure of acclaim from Smith and his co-commentator and to slot seamlessly into the side. It was here that many observers might have wondered if the 23 year-old Ramires would be given a run in order to rest a midfielder, but he had centre stage at the weekend and Carlo was now in his element, so he opted for 17 year-old Josh McEachran instead, sending the average age of the team plummeting and pleasing an awful lot of fans in the process. Still time for the 20 year-old Patrick van Aanholt to make a late appearance and by now I was acting like one of those guys in the cold room of the latest Heineken advert, such was my delight at seeing the second-string differences rammed home so remorselessly.

At this point I was going to bring those Peter Pan players from the Emirates Stadium into the picture, however, this has not been possible as they had to play their best available side against the full might of Braga and thereby strangled the idea of any comparison at birth. Once again, I confess to sneaking a quick look, just to see what the cradle-snatchers had to offer when the game had effectively been put to bed, but the three subs used, Denilson, Vela and Eboue were all known Pans people from the past and therefore players that had already fallen headlong into the archetypal trophy-less category. In short, this was an uninspiring bunch on an uninspiring bench that did at least find some room for Kieran Gibbs.

Truth be told, I’ve always thought the habit of surreptitiously watching the opposition smacks of spying missions and a certain amount of paranoia yet, after yesterday’s confirmation that everything said about our emergent youth is not only true, but coming to fruition in the best possible way, I can’t help but think that each substitution made by Carlo was an impressive statement in its own right. The development of these youngsters right through to being the next generation of top class players for the club is no easy task, so next time I think about channel-hopping to suss out the opposition I’ll remember the personal stick Roman has taken for getting us this far and the fact that he has not gone through all that just so I can watch cheap imitations. Simples, really.

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Well put as usual, Dorset, and youre right, yesterday's subsitutions really were the stuff of dreams. Now that the squad limit is here, and these guys are "on the inside" (not to mention a full season older) I hope we will see alot more of them in these comfortable situations when the game is out of sight.

I was actually expecting Ramires at some point yesterday too, but I think maybe that was the old Carlo who would bring on obvious first teamers when we were controlling the game. Now that this is definitely his team, and he knows the capabilities of the squad and has built a degree of trust with them by playing them in alot of situations (Im thinking about Kalou here, went from just not good enough to being a borderline starter with a great nose for ugly goals), Carlo might be able to have a freer hand with the youngsters knowing that he has a fully committed cadre of "veterans" that will not be bellyaching about playing time.

Love the Terry Thomas reference, btw

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by now I was acting like one of those guys in the cold room of the latest Heineken advert, such was my delight at seeing the second-string differences rammed home so remorselessly.

That made me laugh out loud and now im getting strange looks from the girls at work.

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