It is hard to tell who is busiest at Manchester United matches at the moment, the scoreboard operator or the physio. The injury toll may be mounting week-by-week but the goals continue to flow.
Injuries to Paul Scholes, who is awaiting the result of a scan he underwent yesterday, and Patrice Evra, took to nine the number of United players unavailable for Tuesday night's Champions League match in Ukraine. United, nevertheless, put four past Dynamo Kiev to cement their hold on Group F.
"It is about the squad," said Sir Alex Ferguson, both before and after the game. No one epitomised that more than John O'Shea. The 26-year-old Irishman is the new Phil Neville, a player who struggles to nail down a regular place but who can be relied upon to put in a decent stint in most positions.
On Tuesday he was drafted into midfield in the absence of Owen Hargreaves, Michael Carrick and Scholes, only to be switched to left-back when Evra felt his calf go in the warm-up. O'Shea fitted in seamlessly and should have capped his performance with a goal when he launched, but failed to finish, one of United's many flowing counter-attacks. "It was a great chance," he said yesterday, "but some of the goals we got were fantastic. To have nine points after three games and top the group is a great position to be in."
O'Shea added: "I was preparing to play in midfield but then something happened to Patrice. So I played most of the game at left-back and then finished in midfield. The manager knows what positions I can play in and I'm just enjoying being in the team.
"There is great strength in depth in this squad, that's without a doubt a difference between this squad and previous ones. We're getting stretched to the limits at the minute, but we have some good young lads as well. Hopefully we'll have some experienced lads back soon but we're showing we can more than cope."
In the past United have been undone by injuries towards the end of a season but O'Shea said: "You'd hope we have the squad to cope with injuries throughout the season now. That's why the manager splashed out the money in the summer and hopefully we'll see the fruits of that. But hopefully we'll not have as many injuries but a fit squad instead. Then the manager will have a lot of hard decisions to make. At the moment the team is almost picking itself [because of injuries]. That's not ideal."
Ideal or not United, if the Carling Cup defeat to Coventry suffered by a weakened team is discounted, have won their last 10 matches. That has an inevitable effect, O'Shea said. "Some teams are scared of us. I think nights like that in Kiev really make teams aware of what we are capable of. It seems every time we attack, with the pace and power of Wayne [Rooney], [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Carlos] Tevez and Giggsy [Ryan Giggs], who looked like he was 19 again at some stages against Kiev, we can score. It's just great to see.
"When teams come to Old Trafford they like to play five in midfield and try to play for the draw, but with the attack we have they are going to be very wary of just trying to defend against that lot. We defenders and midfielders know that if we can keep a clean sheet in the first hour of the game, it's more than likely that we're going to have a lead. That's a great boost to have."
Old Trafford casualties
Tendinitis exp. back November
Calf & ankle, November
Fractured elbow, November
Knee, January 2008
Knee, March 2008
Results: Roma 2 Dynamo Kiev 0; Sporting Lisbon 0 Manchester Utd 1; Dynamo Kiev 1 Sporting Lisbon 2; Manchester Utd 1 Roma 0; Dynamo Kiev 2 Manchester Utd 4; Roma 2 Sporting Lisbon 1.
Remaining fixtures: 7 Nov: Manchester Utd v Dynamo Kiev; Sporting v Roma. 27 Nov: Dynamo Kiev v Roma; Manchester Utd v Sporting. 12 Dec: Roma v Manchester Utd; Sporting v Dynamo Kiev.Reuse content