Manchester United start their Capital One Cup, the newly branded League Cup, campaign on Wednesday evening against Alan Pardew’s Newcastle United.
As has been the case for the last few years, this will most likely be a competition used by Sir Alex, and indeed most Premier League managers, to blood through a number of the club’s younger talents, as well as a great avenue to grant more match time to those returning from injury who need the match fitness.
A tough encounter at Anfield at the weekend should ensure that there are plenty of changes to come in Sir Alex’s line up for this encounter, particularly with another interesting battle lined up for the coming weekend against Tottenham Hotspurs, who have finally managed to find some form.
Newcastle United are expected to field a strong side, with both Cheik Tiote and Fabricio Coloccini both passing fitness tests and being cleared to take part in the cup tie. Newcastle manager Alan Pardew talked up the importance of Tiote’s return to the side, and he will be hoping that Tiote will boss the midfield, particularly if United play a less experienced midfield:
“Tioté gets a grip of a game and gives you a platform to play. You can start to dominate with somebody like Cheik. He puts other teams on the back foot. He’s one of our most important players. We need to get him back as quickly as we can and he’ll feature on Wednesday. Coloccini will get some minutes too. He gives us an assurance we’ve missed.”
The likes of Nick Powell and Ryan Tunnicliffe could make for easy fodder for a player of Tiote’s strength and Premier League experience, but Sir Alex will certainly not baulk in the face of someone of his calibre, and will play a side he feels will be more than capable of progressing to the next round. Powell and Tunnicliffe represent two of Sir Alex’s younger options in the middle of the park who could be in line for their first competitive starts for the club at Old Trafford, but Darren Fletcher and Tom Cleverley, as well as Anderson, all represent senior midfield figures who have been starved of minutes thus far this season.
Tom Cleverley’s exclusion from the starting XI at Anfield was surprising, as was his lack of inclusion in last week’s Champions League opener, given how well he has started the season, whilst Anderson has simply been crowded out by the midfielders ahead of him. Fletcher on the other hand is on the verge of a remarkable comeback from illness, with the Scottish international captain set to make his first start of 2012.
Sir Alex stated:
“He will play against Newcastle and that is the perfect game for him to start back. It will be his first 90 minutes for 10 months. It’s a big one for him.
Then we have the game against Tottenham and he could be involved in that. He is handling the condition and, as we saw the other night, he is looking fine.”
Wayne Rooney could also be involved for the first time since he suffered a deep gash to his leg after blocking a shot by Hugo Rodallega in the Premier League fixture against Fulham, as he looks to put himself in contention for the visit of Tottenham Hotspurs this weekend.
Rio Ferdinand spoke to ManUtd.com earlier this week and expressed his desire to see some of United’s younger players feature in the line up:
“We have some really talented young players and I’m looking forward to seeing some of them.
“I’m looking forward to maybe seeing our new signing from Chile, Angelo Henriquez. I’m sure Nick Powell will play and I’m looking forward to seeing him again too as he’s a very exciting prospect. I’m excited to perhaps see Jesse Lingard play and I think Larnell Cole [could feature] as well. There is Michael Keane at the back too. There are loads of them and I could go on and on and be here all day. Hopefully they can stamp their authority on the cup this year.”
Alright, I’ll preface this by saying, I am probably nowhere near the mark with this team prediction. I have not been able to watch enough of the under-21′s to have a proper grasp of who is available and in the best form, and would suggest you ask some of the United fans on Twitter who are more in touch with the younger lads, such as @ManUnitedYouth, for a more educated guess.
The first round of the Carling Cup is always the hardest to predict, because you’re never quite sure which of United’s youngsters Sir Alex is going to choose to spearhead United’s League Cup campaign this time around. United’s pre-season tour saw Frederic Veseli and Scott Wooton receive a fair portion of the minutes on offer, and both looked relatively good, so they could find themselves thrust into the deep end this season, with United not getting a chance to warm up to the competition against lower league opposition this time around. Jonny Evans and Alexander Buttner could both use the minutes as the more senior options available to Sir Alex, with the latter in particular probably being given the chance to prove his worth ahead of a tough fixture against Tottenham, where either Patrice Evra or himself will have to deal with the pacey Aaron Lennon.
Newcastle will represent a tough test, and though the Capital One Cup might not be the highest priority for Sir Alex, he will recognize the opportunity it offers his younger charges, and will want to prolong United’s involvement in the competition as long as possible.
I think that will be reflected in his midfield selection, where I think he will play three players, two of them experienced. Darren Fletcher has all but been confirmed as one of those two, as he continued his return from illness, and I suspect Tom Cleverley would be next in line given the poor performance from the central midfielders on Sunday. A good hit out for Cleverley in this one should hold him in good stead for a Premier League return. Nick Powell or Ryan Tunnicliffe could be the third, less experienced midfielder, either of whom would be making their first competitive start for the side. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a midfield trio of Cleverley, Fletcher and Anderson either, should Sir Alex want to experiment with his more senior, more mobile, combinations in light of the way United were outrun in the middle of the park last weekend.
Up front, I think we will see Hernandez lead the line, with Kiko Macheda, who has yet to make an appearance this season, and Danny Welbeck starting on either side of him. Angelo Henriquez and Wayne Rooney could also both be involved, as could Bebe, but I would expect most of those three to start from the bench. Welbeck and Hernandez have enjoyed decent starts to the season, and some more game time will only do them well.
Newcastle will bring a strong side to Old Trafford, as they look to prolong their own good form, and they would absolute love it (sorry, couldn’t help it) if they could leave Manchester with their first cup scalp for the season, as they push for bigger and better things in the league. United only managed to take one point off of the Tyneside outfit last season, and they will be looking to get one back on their midweek opponents in this cup competition, which should mean that not as many young players will take part as is perhaps expected.