“[Sir Alex] Ferguson went beyond rotation yesterday and treated an FA Cup semi-final as a reserve fixture” – Patrick Barclay

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “You can’t be certain, but all that nonsense about [Riley] being a Manchester United supporter is just ridiculous stuff. Someone put that in David’s head at a press conference. You never know if it influenced him or not. All I would say is he’s got to be 100% certain to give a penalty in a big game like this. If he sees it again he’ll know he’s made a mistake but why would the lad [Welbeck] go down when he’s gone around the goalkeeper and left him stranded? It was a clear penalty.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.

Runner-up: “Is it possible to stay in the Barclays Premier League? Of course it is. This is a club that should be in the Premier League. This club is bigger than at least half of them that are currently up there. People always tell me about the 1950s – and the record throughout that decade speaks for itself. It shows that this is a top, top club and it’s up to us now to make sure we establish ourselves as one. There is absolutely no reason why we can’t.” – Wolves chairman, Steve Morgan.

Today’s overview: After a rare defeat for the champions-elect in the FA Cup semi-final, the hacks are queuing up to take pot-shots at Manchester United and Sir Alex. What seemed to be missed by many however is that it was not so much the kids who lost the cup-tie, but rather the senior players (Ferdinand & Berbatov) who failed with their crucial spot-kicks. Nevertheless, the United kids take a spanking.

Kevin McCarra argued “Ferguson undermined his team, to a degree,” an argument which is supported by Daniel Taylor who wrote “there is a difference between a calculated gamble and a reckless one, and Ferguson surely crossed the line here when he decided United could get away with playing four teenagers in his line-up and leaving out eight of his best 11 players.”

And the abuse keeps coming from Patrick Barclay. “Ferguson went beyond rotation yesterday and treated an FA Cup semi-final as a reserve fixture. For an hour at least. He appeared to hand the Cup its biggest insult since 2000.” While Oliver Kay is also short of sympathy for United. “The United manager ceded the right to too much sympathy when he chose to field a weaker lineup than he had sent out in most of the Carling Cup matches this season… Ferguson left the distinct impression that he and United had bigger fish to fry.”

The Sun rip into Berbatov for his missed penalty. “His attempted penalty yesterday was a disgrace to a player who cost £30.75m. It would have been a disgrace to a player who had cost two bob. As he ambled up to the spot, his body language was all wrong. He was either totally over-confident or shredded by nerves. Or didn’t care… It summed up his season. Casual, seemingly uncommitted and too prepared to let others do his running for him.” Rob Kelly follows a similar line asking whether “Dimitar Berbatov [is] this season’s most pointless signing?… The sad fact is, that penalty miss is probably Berbatov’s most significant act in a United shirt, yet he still keeps the superb Carlos Tevez out of the starting XI most weeks.”

For Martin Samuel, “the only chance a club such as Everton have against one the size of Manchester United is that the big club may be overstretched in a crucial game. That is what happened yesterday and it drew neutrals to root and hope for Everton, too.” Matt Dickinson celebrated Everton’s win for altruistic reasons. “Let’s be honest, [it is] relief for the rest of us. After all, what would it have said about English football if a club as desperate for success as Everton had been beaten on such a showpiece occasion by Manchester United’s second string or, as David Moyes could afford to joke afterwards, ‘their under-14s’?”

Turning on the Toffees, Daniel Pleat was quick to pick holes in their Wembley tactics. “Fellaini was never comfortable, niggling away in midfield, while Cahill, for his part, sat too deep and was rather swamped in the centre when Everton needed his buzz up around an isolated and increasingly immobile Saha.” Sam Wallace continues the criticism of the Toffees penning “David Moyes’ team needed to take this game by the throat and try to expose some of the inexperience in United – in truth they never got close.” Amazingly there is more criticism of Everton’s victory by Kevin Garside who charges David Moyes with missing the chance to shine on the big stage.

It is left for Henry Winter to praise Everton and their manager. “Moyes’ powerful work ethic characterises all his players. They perform with pride in the shirt, with intelligence and incredible desire.”

With Manuel Almunia out injured, David Hytner believes Arsenal must restore the shattered confidence of Lukasz Fabianski if they are to have any hope of success this season. But there is good news from David Woods writing “Manuel Almunia will to be back in the side against Middlesbrough next Sunday.” But it is Matt Hughes who really takes the Gunners to task. “Wenger’s belief that his group of young players can recover from this setback to lift the European Cup is admirable, though it is not shared by even the most one-eyed Arsenal fan… this defeat represented a rude awakening, revealing their enduring defensive weaknesses but also the limits of their attacking edge. Emmanuel Adebayor looked a pale shadow of Didier Drogba.”

Flipping the focus, Didier Drogba is heralded by Jason Burt. “When he is in the mood – and that’s the important distinction – Drogba is unstoppable. A footballing Jonah Lomu. A wrecking ball, trampling opponents, carrying forward his own team.” In a separate article, Jason Burt also has praise for Alex, noting “such is Alex’s importance to Hiddink that he kept Ricardo Carvalho out of the team and held it together.”

On Liverpool, Alan Hansen rejoices over the return of King Kenny. “[Dalglish] will have a lot of involvement with youth development and be on hand to offer Rafa advice as and when he feels he needs it. It will provide a huge boost for everyone at the club, the senior pros as well as the young kids.”

As if almost a ritual which every promoted team must pass, Wolves have learnt their lessons. There are significant differences this time around: the manager has double the length of close season, and greater funding, to try to tempt top-grade players to Molineux.”

In other Premier League news, Patrick Barclay makes the case for Roy Hodgson moving on to another club, and Gabrielle Marcotti explores the “mysterious case of the malfunctioning goalkeepers” in this year’s Champions League. While after watching spurs beat Newcastle, Alyson Rudd makes a valid observation against the Lillywhites. “Tottenham are a Kafka-esque sort of club. They strive towards a European place, the very thing they despaired of possessing earlier this season.”

Lastly, in an eye-opening interview about racism in the 1980s, Tom Dart speaks with Chelsea’s first black player, Paul Canoville. Canoville: “I came in from Fulham Broadway station to games, walking up to the club and there is the National Front giving out leaflets, and that guy must be one of the boys blasting me when I’m on the pitch.”