Alex Ferguson has claimed anyone believing he could play the same side that defeated FC Porto in Manchester United’s FA Cup semi-final with Everton tomorrow is “off their heads”.
Despite the enormity of their meeting with David Moyes’ side, the Red Devils will be virtually unrecognisable from the team that started in Portugal.
Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick are all expected to stand down, with Edwin van der Sar and Dimitar Berbatov possibly joining them, although some will be on the bench in case of emergency.
The move may not sit well with traditionalists, however Ferguson insists he has no other choice.
“When I pick my team, no matter what it is there will be critics voicing a concern about me not playing my strongest team,” said the United chief.
“Not everyone agrees with changes. There are some supporters who want me to play my best team every game.
“That is impossible. If you look at Wednesday’s game you are off your head to think I could play the same team again.”
The sheer energy expended in United reaching the last four of Europe’s number one club competition for the third season in a row means the men asked to do the bulk of the running will not be asked to put their bodies on the line again.
It means Rooney is set to miss out on an emotional last four meeting with his former club, with Ronaldo due to sit the game out as well having toiled on his own up front for the last half hour.
“I am in a difficult position because we have got so many hard games coming up,” reflected Ferguson. “Somewhere along the line I have to make changes.
“The speed of the game has changed.
“Look at how fast the Premier Division is. The intensity of the matches is the reason English teams have a head start in Europe.”
Yet Ferguson also denies he is devaluing the FA Cup.
Replacements such as Park Ji-sung, Darren Fletcher and Carlos Tevez are all senior internationals who have been integral figures in United’s pursuit of an unprecedented quintuple this term.
It is easy therefore for Ferguson to reject the theory he is playing a weakened team.
“Hand on heart, the FA Cup is important,” he said.
“We don’t want to have a defeat at this time of year. No matter what the defeat is, we have to answer for that.”
There is also the little matter of Ferguson’s impeccable record in semi-finals, which dates back to 1990 and currently stands at eight.
Nevertheless, United will not start quite the red-hot favourites they were expected to be, with their manager placing his trust in a defence which, with Rio Ferdinand back alongside Nemanja Vidic, kept its first clean sheet in six matches on Wednesday night.
“Defensively we did really well on Wednesday,” said Ferguson.
“We were back to something like our best which is what we need now.
“We can take encouragement from it but we can also take the understanding of what that partnership at the back means.”
As individuals, Ferdinand and Vidic are outstanding, both on the six-man short-list for the PFA player of the year award.
However, as a pair they are even better, standing alongside Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister as the best partnership of Ferguson’s time at Old Trafford.
“Experience is important at this time of year,” said Ferguson.
“It allows you to be composed under pressure and gives you a presence.
“But it is more than that. It is the partnership.
“I keep on about Bruce and Pallister, who were together for seven years and hardly missed a game.
“Through that they got a consistency and an understanding and knowledge of each other’s capabilities. Now it is the same with Ferdinand and Vidic.”