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May 21, 2009

Scudamore defends Sir Alex's selection plans

Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has insisted there is nothing to prevent Sir Alex Ferguson playing a weakened side against Hull City on Sunday - even though league rules state that every club should field its strongest side.

Manchester United could play a big role in the battle for Premier League survival when they travel to the KC Stadium with the Tigers knowing victory would guarantee their place in the top division for a second season. Newcastle United, Middlesbrough and Sunderland - Hull's relegation rivals - could therefore be forgiven for feeling aggrieved should Hull meet a below strength United side.

But Sir Alex's main concern is the Champions League final which comes just three days later. And the Premier League themselves must be held accountable to some degree for scheduling the culmination of the domestic season so close to the Rome showpiece.

Scudamore believes that the current rules no longer apply as they did in the past, mainly due to the squad rotation system which exists at many clubs.

United sent out what was perceived to be a second string against Everton in the FA Cup semi-final last month, and were only knocked out of the competition after a penalty shootout.

The Red Devil's back-up players are better than the first XI of many clubs, something which Hull's rivals should take into account. But whether they will be as fired up to face Hull as they were for a Cup semi-final at Wembley is also open to question.

Scudamore told BBC Radio 5 Live: "It's a rule that's been there forever and it's been in every competition: it's also in the Carling Cup, the FA Cup. That was a rule that predates the squad system.

"I'm not saying that rule cannot be broken, I'm sure it can: I'm sure it can if the team doesn't try, if the team was just people you'd never heard of and it was all people drafted in on the day then there is a place for that rule to be applied.

"You can't alter the fact they've won the league and they've got the most significant game the following Wednesday against Barcelona.

"You have to be realistic: they've got a squad - everyone says the strength of that squad is what won them the league - and therefore you can't argue that they deploy the benefit of that squad in a game on Sunday.''

By comparison Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has already stated he intends to rest his star players for Saturday's home game agaisnt Osasuna.

He said this week: "My thinking is that a lot of the players will not play until the final in Rome. I don't want to take any risks, especially taking into account the number of players we already have out.

"It helps us to have won the league as early as possible so we can disconnect a little and then switch back on for the final.''

There has been talk of legal action should Hull secure their safety by beating a weakened United side, but Scudamore believes such speculation is fanciful.

He said: "It's a game. You can't go there. It would always sadden any of us if it ends at that but it's very hard to see how it could possibly end in that.''

Whatever side Ferguson chooses, Scudamore still believes United will be going all out for the win.

He said: "Ours is the league that they say is the honest one, ours is the league where everybody goes out every match and wants to win - and you've seen that this last weekend the way Liverpool played against West Brom on Saturday and what Portsmouth did the other night against Sunderland.

"Manchester United have got a big squad. They are the most professional of professional football clubs and they will put out a team on Sunday that absolutely is capable of, will want to and could go out and do their absolute best.''

Hull chairman Paul Duffen has refused to be drawn into the row, insisting his club are focused only on the task of trying to beat United.

Duffen told Sky Sports News: "From our perspective I'm just delighted our rivals on Sunday are more focused on our opposition than their own. We're happy, we know what we have to do.

"Whatever team Manchester United put out it is going to be a very tough ask for us. Even if they put youngsters out they could still field 11 internationals and we have to focus on winning the game.

"I feel we have to beat the side in front of us, I really don't worry too much about what other people are going to do and it is not an issue that is going to disturb us.

"We have to go out and beat Manchester United. Whoever comes out of that dressing room wearing a Manchester United shirt will play their heart out for their club.

"We need to do the same to be better than them on the day. It is in our hands to stay in the Premier League. That was always our ambition this season, to secure Premier League football again for next year and I believe we can do that.''

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