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SAF’s European Headache

There has been a lot of talk on midfielders in the comments section, I realise Penguin did a post on this topic, however, his was more centred on individuals whereas I will be looking at partnerships as well. And there is a big decision to be made by SAF on who to play in the centre of the park on Tuesday when we host Lyon in the second leg of the tie.

In the first match we got a very decent result — a 1-1 draw giving us the away goal and making us favourites to go through. However, that night in midfield we played 3 players, something I doubt we will do at Old Trafford. We had Hargreaves in a defensive role with Scholes and Anderson in front of him supporting Rooney in the lone striker role. Odds are we don’t play 3 in midfield on Tuesday but you never know with Sir Alex.

Here are the midfielders in contention for a place and a brief description of what they bring to the team.

Well, so who do we play against Lyon? That is the question (for this week at least). Here are the possible combinations that SAF might play:

Hargreaves and Anderson:

This combination brings a healthy mix of both flair and stability and has been played in the Premiership on many occasions. On the one hand, we have Hargreaves who is the best tackling midfielder we currently have and bought mainly for European experience. He also brings stability and is very good at covering for the defence. As he showed against Fulham he can hit a free kick very well, scoring his first goal for United. He is very composed on the ball shows a lot of strength and plays it simple but effective. On the other hand there is Anderson who has showed he is worth every single penny we paid for him. He brings attacking flair, is a very good dribbler of the ball. Has a decent passing ability and, surprisingly enough, is very strong — sometimes too strong in a tackle. This is one of my preferred partnerships and has worked well in Premiership matches, however, I‘m not so sure how it will work in Europe.

Hargreaves and Scholes:

This partnership is probably what Sir Alex expected would be his first choice central midfield pairing at the start of season. However, injuries to both of them hasn’t allowed this to happen as much as expected. Hargreaves and Scholes brings much needed experience in the spine of the team. These two alone probably have more European experience than all our other central midfielders put together. With these two in the team we have a ball winner and a play maker; Hargreaves wins the ball gives it to Scholes who starts off an attacking move. That would be the ideal situation.

But Scholes has lost most of that goal scoring ability and attacking flair but has proven time and again, he can still produce moments of absolute genius. When fully fit and on his game Scholes could probably play for any team in Europe. Scholes and Hargreaves is a partnership built for the Champions League. But Sir Alex is well known for picking players on current form and neither of the two are still in full flow.

Hargreaves and Carrick:

I’m not too sure how this partnership will work and hasn’t really been tested out properly, so I doubt it will be played in such an important game. As I said with Scholes and Hargreaves the ideal scenario with this pairing would be for Hargreaves to win the ball, give it to Carrick who in turn would spit defences with a pass. Carrick has shown how great a passer of the ball he is and, unlike Hargreaves and Scholes, he is bang on form. He has been given a good run out in recent matches and has not disappointed as yet. He had a blinder against Arsenal in the cup but was surely disappointed to have missed out on a starting play against Lyon after such a good performance.

All this did not knock him, though, as he continued his rich vein of form against Newcastle, splitting their defence with passes that he made look so easy. On current form he is as good as any midfielder we have but I’m not convinced at his effectiveness against a better defence. In conclusion, this pairing is not one to be played in Europe, at least not for the time being.

Scholes and Anderson:

This is also a pairing not tested much, though both players have attacking flair they both lack any decent tackling ability and so would not bring the defensive steel needed in a European match. And as we need to keep our defence tight in the match on Tuesday I doubt this pair will start together. More suited when we play a team that poses no attacking threat.

Scholes and Carrick:

Again, like Scholes and Anderson, there is not enough of a defensive presence in this pairing. So it is unlikely that they will be paired together in a tough European match. Though this was the pairing that we played last year we were knocked out because we were ripped apart by Kaka, whom we failed to contain. That result was a big reason behind the capture of Hargreaves.

Anderson and Carrick:

Simply not enough combined experience in Europe.

I think we will start with Hargreaves and Scholes and have Anderson on the bench as an impact sub in case it doesn’t go to planned. Also Giggs will probably be preferred to Nani solely on experience. However, don’t put it past SAF to surprise us all and play three in the centre.

I haven’t included Fletcher as I feel he is more of a squad player to be used only because of injuries.

Who do you think will be put in the CM on Tuesday? And who is United’s best midfielder?



  1. simonthered

    3 March 2008 at 10:21

    Partnerships???? United ALWAYS play with 3 (or 5 whichever way you look at it) in Midfield in Europe. So i’d suggest Scholes, Hargreaves and Anderson will probably be the way they line up. Maybe you should rename the title SAF’s Premier League Headache.

  2. Utsav

    3 March 2008 at 10:46

    It will be Carrick and Anderson.

  3. Srikanth

    3 March 2008 at 10:47

    I feel United have been best when Anderson & Carrick have played…I might be wrong though…even in Lyon we were better when Carrick came on

  4. Ian

    3 March 2008 at 10:55

    I agree, there will be Rooney on his own up front and 3 in the middle. I reckon that will be Hargreaves in front of the back 4 with Anderson and Carrick in front of him. We really cannot afford to concede but if we do I reckon Hargreaves will come off for Tevez and we will switch to 4-4-2.

  5. hughie

    3 March 2008 at 11:14

    poor article, United best performances this season have had Carrick and Anderson in the middle. I reckon Hargreaves will be on the bench..coming on with 20-25 mins to go to shore up the defence. I hope Fergie starts with Carrick and Anderson but I reckon it will most likely be Anderson and Scholes.

  6. Jay Jay

    3 March 2008 at 11:38

    Experience, experience… Three’s always talk of experience when it comes to the CL but how do teams like Looser pool manage, i guess for all the times they’ve gone that far in the CL, we’ve always had a better equipped team than theirs as far as experience and even skill is concerned.

    All i believe in is to stick to the the teams game and play a scintillating fast game at the temple we know United is capable of then our foes we be gone in a second. Recall the 7-1 thrashing of Roma! Thats why Looser pool and Arse anal find it simple against opponents that indeed give us headache, why? because they don’t give them respect and they stick to their game.

    And by virtue of that i believe SAF should open his minds and forget about paying royalty to his seniles the so called “class of ’99” and play lads that aint gonna slow down our game, pace and temple. That therefore makes me dream of seeing SAF send ou this starting eleven.

    Wesley Brown
    Patrice Evra
    Nemanja Vidic
    Rio Ferdinand

    Owen Hagreaves

    Michael Carrick
    Luis Oliviera Anderson

    Lius Nani
    Cristiano Ronaldo
    Wayne Rooney

    Carlos Tevez
    Paul Scholes
    Ryan William Giggs
    John Oshea

    With this, the experience of the back and the that of Owen Hargreaves shielding the back four should be enough to see Lyon go down by the Red Devils sword.

    Remember we should at all costs avoid deep defending. Anyone who encourages that by bringing in Scholes, doesn’t know how dangerous Mr. Juninho Pernambucano is! as we all know, Scholes no longer has that extra energy to move upfront and so opts to lie back and do his thing from there. with his late and mis timed tackles we might be in for danger.

    Any comments on my team???????

    Viva United.

  7. Beachryan

    3 March 2008 at 11:40

    Doesn’t it almost have to be Anderson and Carrick, purely because scholes and hargo more or less played 90 minutes at Fulham 3 days before? Hargo hasn’t played twice in a week yet this season, no matter only 3 days later.

    Tough week really, we’ve also got Portsmouth in the FA Cup (which I really want to win this year) on Saturday, so 3 games in a week! Everyone should recall Arsenal this time last year, when dumped out of all reamining tournies in about the same period of time. Hoping that doesn’t happen of course, but it’s going to be a busy few days. Gotta hope for no injuries.

    Personally, I see Fergie starting 4-5-1 against Lyon, with Anderson, Carrick and Fletcher playing in the middle, Ronnie Giggs and Rooney up front. Then on Saturday, return with the Hargo/Scholes combo for Portsmouth, probably with Saha and Tevez again.

  8. Beachryan

    3 March 2008 at 11:41

    Those are some serious full names there ! 🙂

  9. JB

    3 March 2008 at 11:44

    Jay Jay: That is the team I would run with if I was picking it. BTW for the CL you can have two extra subs 🙂

  10. james f

    3 March 2008 at 11:57

    Yeah! What about the full names Jay Jay? It’s totally unfair for PIG? 🙂 Doesn’t he have a full name too?
    Btw, I think that if Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson 😉 chooses to follow you and start tomorrow’s game like this, Lyon has no chance at all.

  11. Ryan

    3 March 2008 at 12:07

    I think the side will be –

    Van Der Sar






  12. Ryan

    3 March 2008 at 12:21

    Just moving on from my previous post the side can also adopt the 433 of –

    Van Der Sar




    So depending on how the game goes were so flexable so all this prefered formation is rubbish really.

  13. craig mc

    3 March 2008 at 12:24

    If Fergie plays 4-5-1 at home he deserves to lose the game. Tevez must play surely, he always seems to sneak a winner goal in closely fought matches.

  14. Beachryan

    3 March 2008 at 12:37

    Does anyone know if Cris is back? Did he play this weekend? Apparently he’s their equivalent of Rio, though we didn’t exactly barrage their back 4 in Lyon.

    I wonder if Ben Arfa will start this time, I could see him giving Brown/O’Shea a time as neither of them possess great pace, and he won’t try to stay on his feet with the prowess of Juninho on free kicks. Then again, that leaves Ronaldo with jsut the full back on the right, which would be a ballsy decision to say the least!

  15. colver

    3 March 2008 at 12:51

    I think Tevez and Rooney will both play. Tevez scared the life out of Lyon when he came on. I think Ferguson will pick the midfield based on experience which means Scholes and Hargreaves.

    Personally I’d prefer Carrick and Anderson or Carrick and Scholes. Lyon are not Milan and with a full strength defence we are more than capable of containing them.

  16. Paul at United On Fire

    3 March 2008 at 12:51

    Hmm, hard one as initially I’d go for Hargreaves and Scholes but Fergie played that combination on Saturday and it’s likely that he’d rotate that. I can’t see Scholes not starting, so Hargreaves drops to the bench (he hasn’t played much in Europe for us so far) and Carrick will come in. Giggs for Nani of course.

    Best midfielder will be Anderson. He is so good now, imagine in 2 years time!

  17. manutd jaluo

    3 March 2008 at 13:13

    jay jay.. i’d also copy paste yo 1st eleven,,but,, i dont think owen hargreaves will.. fergy will want to pull an arsenal with lyon,,so i biliv he will pick an attack minded team.. we should play 4-4-2 with carlos tevez coming in for owen hargreaves. on jay jays squard..

  18. MCRx3

    3 March 2008 at 13:48

    United had enough chances in Lyon to finish the job off before they went one nil down.

    United paid Lyon too much respect. What ever happened to attacking teams quickly and finishing them off on the first half?!

    That has been lacking for a while.

    We went defensive for years after winning the champions league and it didn’t work.

    Now I think SAF is still finding his feet.

    United have the firepower to absolutely batter Lyon. If we go out it will because we were tactically rubbish.

  19. AGP

    3 March 2008 at 13:52

    Fergie goes into the game with a headache due to the Fulham game really. I think he belived he had made his decision before saturday but admited to SKY that he had a dilemma. I think he’ll go with the 2 up front tevez/rooney. In the CM positions i want him to play anderson and carrick but i feel he’ll go with Carrick and Hargreaves.

    Giggs missed training this morning apparently so Nani would be the most natural replacement, though SAF may be concerned with Nani’s lack of experience. The back four picks itself Vidic will be fit, so we have the strongest defence possible. I would risk the new guys Ando/Nani/Tevez.

    I think SAF will be concerned about Lyon scoring first and may sure up the centre, I would risk playing Ando and Tevez i believe they bring a directness to are forward play and that are best form of defense is attack no question!!

    Having not included Scholes and Fletch in the above is in no disrespect to either. Scholes i still working on his match fitness and may find it hard to play so soon after Fulham, with Fletch he good in the big games but i’d like to see him and Carrick against Pompey on Saturday!!

  20. RedDevil

    3 March 2008 at 15:01

    Uniteds best midfield partnership is Anderson and Hargreavs. Defensive and offensive midfielders that make united play with a diamond inthe middle. For tomorrows game I think Fergie will play this team.
    Brown Rio Vidic Evra
    Hargreaves Scholes Anderson
    Ronaldo Rooney Nani
    Anderson has been rested in two games in a row now, so he should play. He might play with Nani and Ronaldo in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Giggs is not fully fit, Tevez should come on after a hour or so. I thinkwe will beat Lyon 2-0 with goals from Ronaldo and Anderson(this seems to be the time when everybody scores their first goal of the season!) 😀

  21. magno

    3 March 2008 at 16:17

    The team’s weekness in the past (last 5 years) was the lack of energy in midfield, now the team has players with energy in abundance they should be used. Anderson has to play…Nani and Tevez are great at chasing down players too.
    I believe Lyon will play like last time, create a wall and wait for United’s attacks to break down.

    Where will United’s attacks break down?

    In the last match there was some good passing but Lyon had swamped the midfield so it was very difficult to get through, long balls to Rooney didn’t work at all and there was always a Lyon player mopping up in front of defense after high balls were knocked down.

    United need play to break down higher up the pitch so that they don’t get caught on the counter attack. They don’t want to be passing it amongst themselves around the halfway line with 3 centre midfielders…then losing it…

    To mix it up there needs to be the high ball outlet (Saha) and someone in for the second ball (Rooney)up front. Unless Lyon are brave and have two up front, I really don’t think they will do this though.

    My pick would be:
    Brown Rio Vidic Evra
    Ronaldo Hargreaves Anderson Nani
    Saha (Tevez)

    There’s a lot of pace there, a serious goalscoring threat from both sides, and speed and agression for closing down and winning the ball back in midfield.

    One last factor is the size of the pitch, Old Trafford is a lot bigger than Gerland so there will be more space for a passing game
    Gerland: 112×65
    Old Trafford: 116×76

  22. Gapi

    3 March 2008 at 16:21

    Carrick and Hargreaves. Hargreaves to man-mark Benzema or Juninho and Carrick for his passing ability which has really been seen in the last few matches. It would be attacking enough with Ronaldo, Nani, Rooney and Tevez all going forward a lot.

  23. Al Nino

    3 March 2008 at 16:30

    giggs is a doubt, so i think nani is gna start which is great news.

    and hargo is still shit when united plays their free flowing attacking football. a wonderful freekick doesn’t change my opinion. he breaks up play superbly well, including his team’s play. which is only vital when we play extremely strong attacking minded teams like inter, barca, real madrid, ac milan etc.

    anderson and carrick will be the best central pairing for most games.

    i see a 4-4-2 with tevez and rooney leading the lines, ronaldo and nani on the wings with the same back four

  24. donibrasco

    3 March 2008 at 17:09

    jay jay.we always discussed the old guard,now all of a sudden u sound like me.i can now smile like a proud dad watching his only son that made it.
    good giggs is injured.hope he doesnt recover in time.

  25. Liam

    3 March 2008 at 17:52

    I think it should be Carrick and Scholes. these were the 2 that were playing last year in Europe when we were controlling the midfield so what has changed? Carrick’s defensive ability is vastly underrated and from what I’ve seen he is much more composed on the ball than Hargo who can be a bit shaky at times. Scholes showed on Saturday that he can still control the midfield second to none (as long as he plays the ball forward and not backwards or sideways) and with Lyon’s slightly shaky defense having 2 players who can pick a great pass in seconds could help us. Would like to see Andy play if he plays 3 in midfield.

  26. JB

    3 March 2008 at 17:55

    Donibrasco: Quite frankly comments like that disgust me. It is one thing thinking that Giggs should no longer be in the team ahead of Nani, but it is quite another to be glad he is injured and hope that he doesn’t recover for the game. What type of gratitude is that?

    No other player has given more for the cause in these past 15 years. The thousands of miles he has covered, the hundred odd goals he has scored, the countless runs, tackles, headers he has made, the nine successful league campaigns he has been involved in, the inspirational performances against Juve, Porto, Depor, Arsenal and Liverpool. What is all this worth? Well it seems to have earned him nothing more than derision and disrespect from some of the clubs so called supporters.

  27. Grognard

    3 March 2008 at 18:09

    Nice article. I’m not one who really believes there is a number one pairing for either Europe or domestic competition. The season is so long now that to be gifted with not one, not two but 5 gifted central midfielders is truly a blessing from the gods. Lets not forget the skipper of Scotland in this discussion because he too is coming on like gangbusters of late. But as this is primarily about Europe one thing is for certain. Hargo is in. With that said, I am totally comfortable with whomever else Fergie plots beside him. My preference at this stage is Carrick for all the reasons the article mentions. Anderson for all his effort and talent is still a little inexperienced for Europe. Scholes is still a safe choice because of experience and a superior football mind, but he has slowed down a bit and he isn’t the offensive force he used to be. I would bring his safe style into play in an away fixture when we play a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3. So for me it is Hargreaves-Carrick. Jeez, you wouldn’t have got that out of me two months ago. Back then Carrick was on my personal transfer list out of OT. Now Abramovich couldn’t come up with the cash to pry him away if I was running things. For that I congratulate Carrick for taking the bull by the horns in the last sixty days and finally showing consistency and making a positive statement to management and supporters. As for Hargo, he was bought for Europe. Enough said.

  28. Grognard

    3 March 2008 at 18:16

    Benzema isn’t the one to worry about in the game. We must at all costs prevent fouling any Lyon player within 30 meters of our goal. Juninho is the man who scares the hell out of me. He is a lethal free kick taker and one free kick at the wrong time could spell disaster and our exit out of Europe. I think Lyon will be a stiffer test than we think. Defensively they are not that great but they do possess many problems from attack. Our midfield needs to really control the game. Hargo and Carrick will be the best to do that in the central areas, while Giggs experience will also be needed. He tracks back better than Nani. Ronaldo needs to show his A-Game for this one while Rooney needs to score a goal or two.

  29. Ollie Y

    3 March 2008 at 18:16

    Though I agree that on current form Carrick and Anderson are our best midfielders we all know how much SAF values experience. And though Anderson and Carrick can play perfectly well in the premier league, europe is a completely different matter. It is very possible that one of them will start but not both of them together. And why would we play with 5 in midfield at home??? Surely were perfectly capable of controlling play without having to croud the midfield

  30. Wazza

    3 March 2008 at 18:46

    The first point is that Manchester must do is not to concede a goal early in the game. If that happens, the team will lose its temper and shape. Gaps will be left at the back while attacking and Lyon will be pleased just to sit back and to counter attack.

    The second point that annoy me is that Manchester is still have a complex at this moment in the champions league competition. If we can surpass this trauma, then we can be considered as a first class team. We must transfer the premiership form to the champions league. With youth and maturity in our side we have a great potential.

    In the champions league, you must take the first chance to score. Not wait for the next opportunity to arrive to score. The only problem with Manu is that if the red devils does not dominate its opponent, it seem more complex for Manu to win.

  31. Taehr

    3 March 2008 at 19:36

    Im hoping for an early united goal.If we do that it will be pretty easy.If its 70 mins at 0-0 ill be fucking panicking cause benzema and juninho are too full of class.Anderson and hargo for me.Wont happen though.I hate seeing rooney on his own.It probably will happen but it just makes it harder for us to score.I hope nani plays instead of giggs.I see his a doubt so my wish may come true.Against arsenal rooney up top looked good,maybe because he had plenty of support from the flanks.Nani tracks back quite a bit,he has the legs to do it.I dont know but im really worried and nervous about this game but if we get through then hell this seasons gonna be a great one.

  32. one

    3 March 2008 at 19:45


    Wes Brown
    Rio Ferdinand
    Nemanja Vidic
    Patrice Evra

    Owen Hargreaves

    Michael Carrick

    Cristiano Ronaldo
    Wayne Rooney
    Carlos Tevez

    ’nuff said..

  33. Dan(u-o.l)

    3 March 2008 at 21:05

    aparently giggs is a doubt for tomorow…

  34. Dan(u-o.l)

    3 March 2008 at 21:18

    RR i see you have fixed the editing comments bug, but why? there is some transfer talk of us getting garay for pique in the summer, we have been linked with a truck load of defenders haven’t we! this would be good, a potential world star for a world star!

  35. james f

    3 March 2008 at 21:30

    Reading the comments of this post, it suddenly hit me! How can Lyon stop us? In fact, how can any team stop us? I mean, don’t get me wrong but I kept reading names like Rooney, Ronaldo, Scholes, Hargreaves, Nani, Tevez, Carrick, Anderson etc. and I got carried away. We seem unstoppable this year!

  36. manuforlife

    3 March 2008 at 21:50

    Fergie seems very keen on winning another european title before he retires and probably
    he feels he hasn’t won enough titles in europe as he would have liked and everyone in the
    media feels united dont have a better chance of winning the title like this year since we are firing
    on all cylinders but again its Europe and we have consistently underperformed over the years
    apart from 99 so im keeping my fingers crossed this year and hopefully our lads can give fergie
    his long awaited wish….

  37. manuforlife

    3 March 2008 at 21:51

    My team would be



  38. MDAWG

    4 March 2008 at 00:35

    I’d have to go with Hargreaves and Anderson. This partnership has time and time again proven to work (although not in Europe)
    Hargreaves will definitely start because we need someone to contain Benzema. Anderson will probably start because i wouldn’t put it past Lyon to just flat out attack the whole game and Anderson’s really quick on the counter

  39. millz

    4 March 2008 at 01:01

    Frankly, I couldn’t give a toss who starts in midfield. we have four capable players who could do the job in any combination. It should be clear by now that whomever we pick will answer our questions. we spend half a season saying Carrick isn’t “United Material” and he reveals himself as one of our best players. it was when we were worried about their maturity and decision making that Anderson and Nani blossomed. Scholes was supposed to be washed up but he played excelently against Fulham. Just when people started calling Hargreaves a bust he scores a beautiful freekick. Furthermore, i remember a couple weeks ago people started fretting about how we can’t get goals unless Ronaldo’s involved. since then we’ve had goals from Carrick, Park, Saha(!) and even Darren bloody Fletcher scored a brace.
    Really it could be any combination of the four. i would also assume that we will play somme variant of a 4-3-3/4-5-1. That seems to be SAF’s preferred european formation, especially when we’re trying to protect an advantage. I’d figure that Scholes would be the first name Sir Alex puts on any united european team sheet. Sir Alex still has a lot of faith in the Ginger Ninja, and has constantly reaffirmed the importance of the aging maestro’s experience throughout the season. I’d say Carrick would be the most likely midfielder to start against lyon he’s been on top form, and he was rested against Fulham. that to me is a clear indication of Ferguson’s intention to start michael tomorrow. this leaves Anderson and Hargreaves to battle it out for the final spot. Hargreaves would be useful in this match, and it’s no secret that Owen was purchased to help us primarily on the european front. I think that Anderson will be favoured over Hrgreaves anyway. Why? Firstly because he was rested against Fulham. Second, because he is our best central midfielder. his skill makes up for his lack of experience, and remember Andy played in the CL for Porto too. Personally i’d also trust the fitness of scholes, even in his thirties over that of Hargo at this point.

    With Anderson Scholes and Carrick we have three players who can all go forward, defend, and keep hold of the ball in equal measure.

    my team:
    Van der Sar
    Fredinand Vidic
    Brown Evra
    Scholes Anderson

    Ronnie Nani

  40. t_reason

    4 March 2008 at 01:37

    I see nani starting the game tomorrow….i think SAF will prefer 2 wide players in ronaldo and nani; his crosses are way too important for our goals…and carrick and hargo in the midfield…although i wouldnt be surprised if it was scholes who partnered hargo…

    brown rio vidic evra
    ronaldo hargo carrick nani
    rooney tevez

    i am convinced MU will beat Lyon by a couple of goals…in SAF we trust


    4 March 2008 at 02:37


    brown rio vidic evra
    hargo carrick
    ronadlo rooney tevez

  42. karl

    4 March 2008 at 09:09

    I personally don’t particularly care who SAF picks, I just so want Anderson to score his first goal.

  43. manutd jaluo

    4 March 2008 at 10:12

    there is all what all of us as fans would like to see, but i honestly thing fergy will play OH and scholes in mid field, after what he said to sky sports that he got a dillema for whom to play after jus watching the first half of the fulham match,,

    i think reason anderson was out,is coz saf was saving him for lyon,but after seeing OH and scholes, he pretty well changed his mind..

  44. manutd jaluo

    4 March 2008 at 10:19

    anderson should play and i dont like the he’s not experienced crap, so whats going to give him more experience if not this kind of matches, and so far he has shown that he is capable of rising to the occasion unlike ronnie who disappears in the big matches.

    my prediction, man utd 4 lyon 0

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