HOW FERGIE WILL REBUILD UNITED'S SELF-BELIEF
Mark Ogden examines how the Old Trafford supremo will react to that devastating 6-1 defeat to City -- starting at Goodison today
When asked about the Manchester City defeat, Alex Ferguson insisted that "you can analyse as much as you want, but we just have to forget it as though it never happened".
While the memory of the 6-1 hammering remains raw at Old Trafford, work this week at Carrington has revolved around drawing a line under the defeat and focusing on an instant response at Everton.
Ferguson's ethos remains the same, either in triumph or adversity. The man who claims that the joy of success is fleeting treats football catastrophe in a similar fashion.
Despite being urged by his mentor Jock Stein to allow the dust to settle on bad defeats before addressing the faults, Ferguson has admitted to dealing with negatives immediately, to avoid a lingering gloom descending.
"We don't forget anything at this club," Ferguson has remarked. "But there's a difference between remembering and dwelling on things."
Issues will have been addressed in-house, video replays pored over and match data digested, but there will be no knee-jerk reaction to the humiliation inflicted by City.
"Sometimes you come unstuck and sometimes it is in a big way," said assistant manager Mike Phelan. "You can't go overboard when you are winning and you can't go overboard when you lose."
Feel the pain
As United crashed to a 5-1 defeat against City at Maine Road in September 1989, Ferguson turned to substitute Lee Sharpe and told the teenage winger to prepare to go on for the closing stages.
"The manager sent me on with about 20 minutes to go," Sharpe said. "I think he wanted me to experience what it was like to lose like that."
Nobody exploits the pain of defeat quite like Ferguson. After his team lost again at Maine Road in November 2002, United's first derby defeat in 13 years, Ferguson threatened to invite his club's supporters into the dressing-room "so the players would know what they are thinking".
Gary Pallister, who played in the 5-1 defeat at City and then the 5-0 reverse at Newcastle in 1996, says that Ferguson expects the "pain and embarrassment to be felt by his players and used as the motivation for a positive response".
"This has been a tough week for everyone," Ferguson said yesterday. "The players, the staff, the employees of the club have all suffered, but we have to get over it. When we lost 5-0 to Newcastle, we bounced back and ended up winning the league by 10-11 points."
Clear the treatment room
One of the most telling statistics of United's campaign is that Ferguson has been forced to use no fewer than 23 players in nine league games so far this season.
Injuries and illness have denied Ferguson the luxury of a settled back-four, while key players have also been unavailable in midfield.
Experienced figures such as Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have been sidelined, while Ryan Giggs, Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher have also been ruled out of action.
Ferguson admitted earlier this year that "I never mention the players who are missing, never discuss it, because they are no use to me".
The Scot has made no secret in the past of his belief that a lack of focus and fitness contributes to bad results.
"Players who miss training become dull and their reflexes lose sharpness," Ferguson said.
"One of these days, they are going to find a bloody big padlock on the treatment room door."
As United prepare to travel to Merseyside today, the question marks over the fitness of Ferdinand, Vidic and Giggs, three of United's senior servants, leave the manager with a selection problem, one which is likely to be resolved by turning to those who can offer energy and reliability.
Swing the axe
Big defeats often expose the frailties of players who have become a declining force and question marks have emerged over Ferdinand and Patrice Evra since the derby defeat, while Vidic's injury problems this season have also raised doubts over the United captain.
Ferdinand, Evra and Brazilian midfielder Anderson are likely to be dropped at Goodison in the wake of their dismal performances in the derby, and the long-term prospects for Ferdinand in particular appear bleak.
In the past, the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Roy Keane were moved on by Ferguson once their usefulness had diminished and, with the emergence of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, a comment made by the manager to RTE this year would appear to carry an ominous message for Ferdinand.
"Sometimes," Ferguson said, "when a player grows old, you have to recognise it and they have to move on."
With Keane and Van Nistelrooy, their departures were accelerated by the emergence of youth and the need to create space for their development.
City's victory last week might just create the openings for Jones, Smalling and Fabio da Silva. Today's team selection at Goodison will be fascinating. (© Daily Telegraph, London)