For big clubs, squad rotation is a fact of life -- and it's certainly not debatable that that's the case for Sir Alex Ferguson. Starting on Saturday, Manchester United face an upcoming fixture list that includes a Premier League tie versus Stoke City at Old Trafford, a home UEFA Champions League clash with Portuguese side Braga next Tuesday, and a trip to Stamford Bridge the following weekend for a league battle with Chelsea. The midweek fixture that follows the league match versus the Blues is a merely a Capital One Cup tie -- actually versus Chelsea again -- so key players will probably be rested then. Fergie certainly has an idea on how he will use his deep squad over the challenging nine-day stretch that begins with the Stoke on Saturday and the recent international break will likely factor into his thoughts. Here's a brief summary of the involvement over the break for the fifteen United players that were called into international duty -- twelve of those players are key ones for Fergie:
- Wayne Rooney: Started two matches for England and played just over 146 minutes in those contests.
- Michael Carrick: Started two matches for England and played the full 180 minutes in those contests.
- Tom Clevlerley: Started two matches for England and played the full 180 minutes in those contests.
- Danny Welbeck: Started in one match and came on as a substitute in another. He played just over 113 minutes in those matches.
- Robin van Persie: Rested last Friday versus Andorra and featured for the full 90 minutes versus Romania on Tuesday.
- Patrice Evra: Rested last Friday versus Japan in a friendly and featured for the full 90 minutes versus Spain on Tuesday.
- Nani: Started two matches for Portugal and played the full 180 minutes in those matches.
- Darren Fletcher: Started Started two matches for Scotland and played the full 180 minutes in those matches.
- Antonio Valencia: Sat out Ecuador's Friday match due to suspension and he went the full 90 minutes on Tuesday versus Venezuela.
- Javier Hernandez (Chicharito): Started two matches for Mexico and played over 150 minutes in those contests.
- Shinji Kagawa: Started two friendlies for Japan and played the full 180 minutes in those matches. Both occurred in Europe and not in Asia.
- Jonny Evans: Northern Ireland only had one match and Evans went the full 90 minutes versus Portugal on Tuesday.
- Robbie Brady: Came on as a substitute in one match and he started Ireland's other qualifier. The youngster played over 51 minutes.
- Joshua King: Two substitute appearances for Norway and he played over 65 minutes.
- Angelo Henriquez: The 18-year-old was unused in both of Chile's qualifiers.
I'll go over this position-by-position:
- Goalkeeper: Anders Lindegaard seems to make most sense for Stoke because of their physicality, route one preference, and propensity to whip in crosses. However, there are rumblings that the Dane may be injured. I would love to see David de Gea at Stamford Bridge after his tremendous performance there last season.
- Center-back: Chris Smalling is set for a return and it is certainly welcome. Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans are likely to be first-choice because they've been getting games and likely are in sharper form. Smalling could spell one of them though for Braga as Fergie will surely be looking to get him games. In two weeks, the Capital One Cup tie looks to be a likely one for him to feature in as well.
- Right-back: Rafael is the clear first-choice right now here but having Smalling back also provides some depth here. Smalling might actually be a dark-horse candidate to start at right-back versus Stoke because of their aerial threat. He's also possible to give Rafa a rest versus Braga.
- Left-back: Evra is the clear first-choice and at the very least, he'll start two of the next three games -- if not all three. Alexander Buttner could possibly rotate in versus Braga and in a less likely chance, versus Stoke. Evra seems certain to start versus Chelsea.
- Central-midfield: It'll be interesting to see if Fergie uses his midfield diamond at any point in the next three games. This would potentially factor into how he'll rotate his midfield. This seems unlikely versus Stoke because two players should be able to win the midfield battle and United will want players defending out wide trying to prevent crosses from being sent in -- defending the flanks is the weakness to the midfield diamond system.
Carrick and Cleverley both going the full 90 minutes for England in a six-day span -- and with only two days of rest ahead of Stoke -- likely results in at least one of them being rested on Saturday. Darren Fletcher pretty much did the same for Scotland. Paul Scholes likely starts alongside one of Carrick or Cleverly, or possibly Anderson. The Brazilian might offer a bit more physical presence against Stoke.
Rooney is likely involved here if the diamond is used at any point while Cleverley and Ando are definitely preferred right now in the box-to-box/shuttling roles. It would be interesting to see if Fletch still has the mobility to play well in a box-to-box and shuttling role.
- Winger: The use of wingers will be dependent on whether or not a diamond system is used at any point. When Fergie elects to use his more usual systems that involve wingers, he'll have Nani and Valencia to use. It wouldn't be surprising to see the latter rested after his trip back from South America. Ashley Young is nearing a return and he's possible to feature at some point as well. Fergie has been comfortably using Danny Welbeck in a left-sided role and he's well rested after only coming on as a substitute yesterday for England. He's possible on the left versus Stoke with Nani on the right flank. Look for Valencia to start on the right versus Chelsea due to his continual success versus Ashley Cole.
- Striker: Plenty of choices: Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Chicharito, and Welbeck. Look for RvP to play as much as possible and he only featured once for Holland last week. Rooney will feature as much as possible as well and he likely will feature as a secondary striker or as the No.10 in a midfield diamond. Rooney could possibly be rested versus Stoke though after starting twice for England in the past week. Chicharito is likely to be rested on Saturday as well after starting twice for Mexico and now having to travel back from North America.
Early prediction for Stoke (4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1): Lindegaard (if healthy); Rafael, Rio, Evans, Evra; Nani, Scholes, Anderson, Welbeck; Kagawa; van Persie