Michael Owen will start as Manchester United’s fringe players take up the challenge of winning a third Carling Cup in a row at Old Trafford. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side faces Wolverhampton Wanderers in the competition for the second year running. Danny Welbeck’s goal handed United victory in last year’s third round.
Owen has largely been ignored this season amid Javier Hernandez rise at the club and Dimitar Berbatov’s excellent goalscoring form. But the 30-year-old, who is out of contract in June, scored twice as Ferguson’s side beat Scunthorpe United in round two last month.
The former Liverpool player failed to make the bench for United’s victory over Stoke City at the weekend but has scored seven goals in his last nine appearances in the Carling Cup.
Although the temptation to retain two-goal Hernandez is strong, the in-form Mexican is more likely to feature against Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend.
Owen could partner Italian teenager Federico Macheda in attack, while Bébé is set for a first start for the club following a surprise £7.4 million summer transfer. The Portuguese Under-21 international has made just two substitute appearances for the club to date.
Meanwhile, French winger Gabriel Obertan, Anderson and Darron Gibson could all feature in the Reds’ midfield as United seek a third final in a row.
Perhaps the most exciting proposition among United’s younger players is Ravel Morrison, who has been handed a squad number a may play tonight. The 17-year-old, dubbed one of the most talented players of his generation in some media quarters, is able to perform in a variety of midfield and forward positions.
However, the player’s progress is threatened by off-the-field issues, including an arrest amid newspaper allegations of involvement with illegal drugs and firearms.
Although Ferguson will continue the now long-held policy of fielding principally fringe players until the semi-final, the Carling Cup represents a realistic chance of silverware this season with other leading clubs also fielding weaker sides. Indeed, with Chelsea favourites to retain the Premier League and United probably short of the quality to challenge in Europe, the Carling Cup is arguably more important to United than ever.
Meanwhile, Wolves manager Mick McCarthy may also rotate his resources, although not necessarily resorting to the 10 changes he made in last season’s Premier League fixture at Old Trafford. The Irishman made a calculated gamble on his squad’s freshness. It was a decision that helped the Midlanders retain a place in the Premier League last season. The ridiculous £25,000 fine handed out by the Premier League is now made a complete mockery by the 25-man squad system introduced this season.
McCarthey’s men, who lost to Chelsea at the weekend, face United twice, Manchester City and Arsenal in a daunting series of fixtures over the next fortnight. It makes a Carling Cup run all-the-more important, says McCarthy.
“At this moment in time, wouldn’t it be great for us to have a cup run?” said the affable McCarthy.
“Everyone knows about the games we’ve got. We’ve just been beaten by Chelsea, we’ve got Man United in the cup, (Manchester) City in the league, United in the league then Arsenal in the league.
“So wouldn’t it be great to have a victory of any sorts amongst all of those? And if it’s going to be in the Carling Cup, let’s have it.”
It will take a monumental effort, despite United’s fringe squad, as Wolves have not won at Old Trafford in 30 years.
Wolves – 4-4-2 – Hennessey; Stearman, Mancienne, Mouyokolo, Elokobi; Foley, Jones, Milijaš, Hunt; Ebanks-Blake, Bent.
Subs from: Van Damme, Edwards, Craddock, Henry, Fletcher, Ward, Hunt, Jones, Berra, Jarvis, Zubar, Mujangi Bia, Doyle, Foley, Guedioura,
Kuszczak, Amos, Smalling, Evra, O’Shea, Rafael, Fábio, Brown, Anderson, Carrick, Gibson, Hernández, Macheda, Hargreaves, Owen, Park, Eikrem, Dudgeon, Gill, Morrison, Brady, Bébé, Obertan.
Referee: L S Mason
Assistant referees: A I Halliday & S Burt
Fourth official: P T Crossley
United – WWDWDW
Wolves – LWLLDL