Berbatov out in cold when heat is rising
When a manager picks his team for crucial fixtures at the defining stage of a season, reliability is everything and that is why Alex Ferguson will once again leave Dimitar Berbatov out of the Manchester United side to face Chelsea tomorrow night.
Berbatov's goal against Fulham on Saturday took him to 21 in the Premier League this season and he remains the league's top scorer. But when it comes to the big games, Berbatov usually finds himself on the bench. He hasn't started any of United's games against Arsenal or Chelsea this season and for the Champions League quarter-final I just can't see Ferguson accommodating him in the starting XI.
Alex doesn't show mercy when it comes to picking a team. Some might think Berbatov deserves some compassion considering that he is the league's leading scorer, but this is big-time football, trophies are at stake and, in this situation, Ferguson will always go with his best team.
A manager has to have total trust in a player in order to start him in the biggest games and Alex clearly believes that Berbatov, when games are tight and there is a need for something extra, falls short.
He is a top-class player with classic technique. He is a phenomenal talent and should be one of the first names on the teamsheet, but if Berbatov wants to be starting every game, he has to say so with his actions.
For all of Wayne Rooney's problems this season, he is the first name on the teamsheet because he delivers in the big games. His goals against Manchester City and Chelsea in recent weeks, and his hat-trick at West Ham, highlight his ability to make a difference.
Following Berbatov's five-goal display against Blackburn in November, I suggested that he had to "deliver when it is tense and tight" and that he also had to "score when it is difficult for him and the team". Barring the odd late goal, he hasn't done that. That's why Alex feels he offers more as a sub.
Look at Javier Hernandez. When he is on the pitch, he will always give 100pc and try to find space to make something happen. Berbatov is much more laid-back. When a centre-forward is firing, they often have an air of invincibility about them, but you don't see that with Berbatov. Another problem Berbatov must overcome if he is to reclaim his starting place is the blossoming partnership between Rooney and Hernandez, which looks better than the Rooney-Berbatov one.
As a defender, facing Rooney and Berbatov is relatively easy because Rooney will always take a position just off the front man and look to play balls around the corner for his partner to latch on to. But Berbatov's instinct is to come to the ball and hold it, so it can slow United down and make life easier for defenders.
With Hernandez around, everything changes because he gives Rooney the option he likes by offering a presence on the shoulder of the last defender.
When Rooney sprung on to the international scene at Euro 2004, he had Michael Owen to look for, and now Hernandez gives him something similar.
Hernandez offers a total contrast to Berbatov, but there have been times when his partnership with Rooney hasn't worked quite so well.
In the league game at Chelsea last month, Ferguson started Rooney and Hernandez, with Berbatov on the bench, but it went wrong for United because the Mexican did not hold the ball up well. By the time Berbatov replaced him, it was too late.
A pattern is developing, however, whereby Alex either starts with Rooney on his own or Rooney alongside Hernandez. I don't see that changing against Chelsea. That is because Alex demands everything from his players when it comes to the matches that really matter and he no longer believes he can get that from Berbatov.
He hasn't been a bad signing for United because he has scored a lot of goals to put his team in a position to win, but there is no doubt that he has underachieved. (© Daily Telegraph, London)