Gary Neville has rejected criticism of Manchester United’s European system after another unconvincing display against Nantes.
Even though United had won 12 of their last 14 games playing 4-4-2, Sir Alex Ferguson reverted to their 4-1-4-1 formation for the Champions League.
The tactic almost backfired and United needed a stoppage-time penalty from Ruud van Nistelrooy to salvage a point against Nantes, who are a lowly 13th in the French First Division.
Neville, though, feels the critics are forgetting how United beat Olympiakos in Athens and drew against European Cup holders Bayern Munich in the Olympic Stadium playing this way.
‘‘I think this is always going to be levelled at us, but they weren’t saying that in Bayern Munich or Olympiakos earlier in the season,’’ said the England defender.
Neville also pointed out that despite only drawing, United created more than enough chances to win the game.
Nantes goalkeeper Mickael Landreau denied United repeatedly and Neville felt but for his performance, the Reds would have won and nobody would be questioning which system they played.
‘‘You never expect to create that many chances away in Europe,’’ he said. ‘‘To be honest with you we murdered them in the second half.
‘‘If you look at the game, it wasn’t until the last five minutes that Nantes started putting together a couple of breaks.
‘‘We were creating all the chances and it just wouldn’t go in for us.
‘‘Their goalkeeper was fantastic and he seemed to save everything.’’
As good as Landreau was, that still can’t hide the fact that once again United seemed inhibited playing 4-1-4-1.
This time the problem was not in attack where van Nistelrooy has struggled in the past with the burden of playing up front on his own.
The Holland international was well supplied in the Stade de la Beaujoire and could have scored three or four times and saw one shot cannon off the post with Landreau, for once, beaten.
Instead defence was where United had most problems and despite the protection given by Roy Keane, the Reds’ rearguard were opened up far too easily by Nantes’ modest attack.
After looking so solid in their previous 12 games together, United’s back four were all at sea on the shores of the Atlantic.
United were also below par in midfield and Paul Scholes and Juan Veron did look like they knew exactly where they were supposed to play.
Veron had been rested for the resumption of the Champions League, but despite his breather the £28.1m (€46m) midfielder produced yet another lacklustre display.
It was only when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced him and United switched to 4-4-2 that the Premiership champions looked really menacing.
The honest Keane admitted United had been below par and he felt the change of tact with the substitutions paid off.
‘‘In the first half we were very, very poor,’’ he confessed. ‘‘It was pretty shocking.
‘‘We kept going in the second half, we kept plugging away and we got our just rewards.
‘‘With the substitutions we made, we were always going to have a chance.’’
Despite the evidence of this game, Ferguson is determined to stick with his system for Europe and he remains confident that this is the way to win the Champions League.
He can rightly point to the fact that United remain top of Group A with five points at the halfway stage of the second phase.
They remain well on course to reach the quarter-finals for a sixth successive season going into Tuesday’s return match against Nantes at Old Trafford.
The doubters, though, will reserve judgement on Ferguson’s system until they see more compelling evidence.