This weekend Manchester United played Manchester City in one of the most intriguing fixtures of the current English Premiere League season. As Ted and Rendy pointed out, last week Manchester United did not field a strong team against their opponent Liverpool, possibly in preparation for this weekend’s game. Despite this tactic, United was shelled 6-1 by the team that United’s manager referred to as “noisy neighbors”. City played very well, and United simply seemed to be out of their depth. It really makes a fan like myself question the idea of intentionally fielding a weaker team for some games. There are examples of this occurring in other sports. Teams that make the playoffs in any of the major American sports consistently rest their big-time players in final regular season games to give their players a break and avoid the potential for injury. In the English Premier League teams can play in as many as four competitions throughout the course of the season, and as a coach I recognize that it would be impossible to expect players to be able to perform well every game. Yet I still have a problem with fielding a team that essentially demonstrates to the players and organization that this game, this time, is not as important as another.
I also wonder what type of messages that the players on a team receive when coaches field sub par lineups. Do some players feel as if they are being relegated? Playing and training with the first team, yet only featuring in games when a coach is not interested in winning? What about the players that are told to rest during midweek games to be ready for the weekend’s match? How do they view their standing on the team? How do they view the players who are tasked with playing that supposedly less important game? Does the notion of sacrificing some games for the sake of others impact the way a team functions? I believe that it does. I believe that the goal of a coach is to get the best out of each of his or her players, and to provide them with an environment in which they can succeed. Putting out a team that is substantially weaker does not put players in an environment for success.