Kids set for Carling Cup call
Posted by nickogs20 on September 22, 2010
United begin their quest to lift the Carling Cup for a third successive year at Glanford Park tonight and, as always when the Reds enter the competition at this time of year, much of the focus will be on some of the more unfamiliar faces on show.
The more unfashionable domestic cup competition has long been used by Sir Alex Ferguson to blood some of his more promising protégés, going all the way back to 1994 when a diminutive redhead by the name of Scholes was among a trio handed debuts away at Port Vale. Since then, the likes of John O’Shea (1999), Gerard Piqué, Giuseppe Rossi (both 2004), Darron Gibson (2005), Ryan Shawcross (2006), Jonny Evans (2007) and Danny Welbeck (2008) have all made their first team bows in League Cup ties, as have numerous others who have gone on to have productive careers in the game.
With the stakes so high at the top of the Premier League these days, there’s no question that the Carling Cup is where opportunity knocks loudest for those looking to break through at Old Trafford. As such, a big part of the attraction of the competition for the fans now is to see which youngsters feature (particularly in the early stages), with all sorts of names being put forward as potential candidates for inclusion and assorted youthful lineups being suggested.
Sir Alex doesn’t just send eleven youngsters out there like lambs to the potential slaughter of course (although the side that bowed out with a whimper against Coventry in 2007 was unusually inexperienced and it showed) – the competition is also an opportunity for the manager to give fringe members of his squad valuable minutes on the field. We can certainly expect to see that happening at Scunthorpe tonight, with senior players like Tomasz Kuszczak, Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown, Anderson, Darron Gibson, Ji-Sung Park, Michael Owen and Javier Hernández all in contention to feature in some capacity.
There will be room for a number of less experienced players in the squad however, be that as part of the starting lineup or amongst the substitutes. Summer signing Chris Smalling is likely to partner one of Ferdinand or Brown at the heart of the defence, Rafael, Fábio (injury permitting) and Ritchie de Laet are all in contention for the full-back roles, while winger Gabriel Obertan looks a cert to start after his recent return from injury. Federico Macheda and another recent arrival, the much talked about Portuguese Bebé, have both had their involvement confirmed by the manager in the pre-match buildup, the latter’s debut perhaps being the most eagerly anticipated (for dubious reasons in some cases) since Wayne Rooney’s – United Rant have covered this well.
A number of other players will be hoping for the call, but have to be seen as longer shots to make the 18 given the list of senior players lacking match fitness. Conor Devlin may be a possible candidate to serve as understudy to Kuszczak, given Ben Amos‘ absence due to an arm injury, but Edwin van der Sar is more likely to be the back-up. Magnus Eikrem, an unused substitute at this stage of the Carling Cup last year against Wolves, will hope to be involved once again and perhaps take to the field this time, while fellow midfielder Corry Evans should be in the mix after being part of the first team’s pre-season tour of North America.
Nick Ajose is another who’ll have hopes of making the bench after a fine start to the season with the reserves, and the decision to allocate him a squad number (#38) on Monday may suggest he’ll get his chance to be part of a senior squad for the first time. 17 year-old fellow forward Will Keane was another thought to be pushing for a place, but an injury that forced him off at half-time in last week’s reserve loss to Aston Villa looks likely to rule him out. It’s hard to see anyone else forcing their way into the reckoning tonight, but Oliver Gill, Robbie Brady and Ravel Morrison (if fit) would perhaps be the next in line if SAF’s squad was hit by any late withdrawals.
Only eighteen players can be involved, so with that in mind it would probably be remiss not to have a go at predicting their identity…
Predicted XI: Kuszczak; Neville, Ferdinand, Smalling, Rafael; Obertan, Gibson, Anderson, Park; Macheda, Owen.
Subs: van der Sar, Brown, Fábio, C Evans, Eikrem, Bebé, Hernández.
Featuring for United in the Carling Cup is by no means any guarantee of making it at Old Trafford or even having much of a future in the game at all – just ask the likes of Michael Barnes or Phil Marsh, now plying their trade in non-league four years after being part of a Reds side that beat Crewe at the third round stage. Nonetheless, the last few years have seen a healthy number of youngsters seizing their big chance in this supposedly meaningless competition and going on to push themselves regularly into the first team picture. Who knows, maybe we’ll see another take that first step tonight…