United are out of the FA Cup after a brave semi-final showing from a very young Reds team, losing 4-2 on penalty kicks at Wembley.
Ironically, it was Phil Jagielka, the man whose foul should have given United a second-half penalty, who scored the winning spot-kick after the two teams could not be separated in 120 minutes of entertaining football. It's Sir Alex's first FA Cup semi-final defeat and ends the chance of an unprecedented quintuple. However, his selection suggests he is prioritising the Premier League and Europe in a packed fixture schedule.
It had been something of a gamble and there were raised eyebrows when the team-sheet was submitted an hour before kick-off, with eight changes from the side that beat Porto four days previously. The absentees all stayed in Manchester, but reports that a broken metatarsal would rule Wayne Rooney out for the rest of the season were inaccurate.
Sir Alex insisted he couldn’t ask many of his players involved in a taxing battle in Portugal to go again on a heavy Wembley pitch – only Anderson, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic survived from the team that started at Estadio do Dragao.
The average age of the starting team was just 22, with four teenagers involved - Rafael and Fabio made their first competitive appearances together for United at right- and left-back respectively, Danny Welbeck was at left midfield and there was a first start for Federico Macheda - the Reds' recent league-match winner.
The youthful Reds started very well in a very open game, with Macheda looking exceptionally lively up front alongside Carlos Tevez. There were few signs of nerves in front of a record FA Cup semi-final crowd of 88,141, and United went closest to scoring first on 22 minutes, when Welbeck’s glancing touch from Rafael’s cross was deflected wide by Joleon Lescott. It coincided with a sustained period of pressure on Everton in the