For more than two decades the League Cup, in all its various sponsorship guises, has become a synonym for youth at Manchester United. After all, many of the ‘Class of 92’ took their first steps in this tournament, with Paul Scholes making his club bow in United’s 2–1 victory over Port Vale almost 21-years-ago to the day. Sir Alex Ferguson effectively invented the practice, using the League Cup as a proving ground for the club’s academy prospects and a run-out for players on the fringes of the first team.
In United’s opening game of the 2015/16 competition Louis van Gaal’s side may contain few of the club’s contemporary youth, although it may be an important night for Brazilian youngster Andreas Pereira who should start for the first time this season.
Van Gaal enjoyed no success employing Ferguson’s method in last season’s defeat at Milton Keynes Dons, where a 4-0 loss shaped the Dutchman’s thinking about his squad early in the campaign. The result solidified the perception that Javier Hernández, Danny Welbeck, Anderson and Shinji Kagawa had no place in the Dutchman’s plans – and in total nine United players who started that match no longer play for the club. Of the 18-man matchday squad selected at Milton Keynes, only five – David de Gea, Paddy McNair, James Wilson, Nick Powell and Andreas Pereira -remain Old Trafford employees. Loanee Adnan Januzaj could yet return from a loan at Borussia Dortmund, although Powell appears unlikely to make the breakthrough at the club.
United’s calamity at Stadium:mk last September is fresh in Van Gaal’s memory, although the Dutchman will change-up his squad to some extent against Ipswich Town on Tuesday. But injuries and a thin squad means there is limited scope for fresh faces against an Ipswich side that lies fifth in the Championship table – although United should still complete a comfortable victory over Mick McCarthy’s side on Wednesday night. There is, after all, a large gap in quality between teams at the top of English football’s pyramid and those one rung down.
Still, in the context of United’s last outing in the Capital One Cup, there will be few of Van Gaal’s squad who will want to fail against lower-league opposition again. Nor, indeed, will a manager who is yet to find real consistency from his team, despite Sunday’s victory over Southampton, which takes United to second place in the Premier League table.
The Dutchman’s selection will certainly be shaped by the paucity of options available for the clash – a situation created both through injury and because United sports a smaller squad than has been typical at Old Trafford over the past 20 years. It is a surprise, in that context at least, that neither James Wilson nor Jesse Lingard will play, each having completed 90 minutes for United’s under-21 team on Monday night.
“Last year we were already out in the second round,” said Van Gaal of last season’s humiliation in this competition. “Now we are already in the third round so we are already further but you have to fight for every cup and that is what we shall do. Ipswich are a very good team, I have seen them play, we have analysed them, and they have very good players. They will play directly to their strikers and that’s always difficult to defend. Cambridge and Preston North End did it, [in last year’s FA Cup] but we beat them both.”
Meanwhile, McCarthy’s side has started the season in inconsistent fashion, with a six-point gap to league leaders Brighton & Hove Albion having opened up. The Tractor Boys narrowly missed out on promotion last season after defeat to local rivals Norwich City in the play-offs. It remains a significant wound.
McCarthy also resumes a long-standing rivalry with Van Gaal. The Barnsley-born manager was in charge of the Republic of Ireland side that effectively knocked Netherlands out of the 2002 World Cup in the qualification stages after a 1-0 Irish victory at Lansdowne Road. That win offered McCarthy one of his career highlights against a manager whom he perceived to be arrogant. Not the first time that charge has been levelled against United’s Dutch coach.
“I can tell you I was absolutely fucking delighted to win that one,” said 56-year-old McCarthy.
“It was all starting to annoy me at the time because they were all booking their hotels and getting ready to be in the play-offs. It was as if he had no chance. Unfortunately for Louis, one of you guys will have asked ‘do you think Mick McCarthy’s job will be under pressure if they lose?’ And he will have answered honestly and said ‘it probably will’. He answers a question honestly and I get the hump about it! That’s just the way it is. At the time I was probably an angrier younger man.”
There will be many of a similar ilk among the home support should the Reds fail on Wednesday – youth selected or otherwise. For Ipswich it is, according to McCarthy, an “incentive for the rest of the season” and the manager a “sharp reminder” of what he wants most: to manage once again in the Premier League.
Team news and line-ups
Phil Jones and Pereira could both feature at some point, although the Englishman will start the game as a substitute having only just returned to first team training following injury. The United manager is short of defenders, with Marcos Rojo suffering a hamstring problem against Southampton on his return to the United starting line-up, and Paddy McNair also injured. Guillermo Varela could make his first team début in the back four.
“First we have to see who is available,” said Van Gaal. “Luke Shaw is of course not available but the players who came into the Southampton game, for example Marcos Rojo, he is not ready to play. Neither is Paddy McNair, he is also injured. It’s not so nice we have three defenders injured but I can line up 11 players so that is not the problem. Because of the injury I shall have [Jones] on the bench but he is not fit. Maybe he can play 30 minutes. He is a lucky boy that I don’t have other substitutes.”
Elsewhere, Pereira, will be presented with a rare opportunity in the first team. The Brazilian youngster enjoyed a productive summer, as a winner with his country at the Under-20 World Cup, and then for the club on the pre-season tour of the United States.
Marouane Fellaini, Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney are all options in attack, while Ander Herrera could come back into the side.
Meanwhile, McCarthy could also rotate his squad, with the club’s focus squarely on promotion from the Championship this season. Ipswich will be able to call on Ryan Fraser and Kevin Bru, who return from injury, while goalkeeper Dean Gerken faces a late assessment.
United subs from: Johnstone, Darmian, Jones, Carrick, Schweinsteiger, Goss, Mata, Memphis, Rooney
Ipswich subs from: Parr, Murphy, McGoldrick, Alabi, Oar, Fraser, Malarczyk, Bialkowski, Coke, Fraser, Bru
Referee: Simon Hooper
Assistant referees: Mark Dwyer and Peter Wright
Fourth Official: Carl Boyeson
United 3-1 Ipswich
£1 bet club
Anthony Martial to score a hat-trick @ 18/1
Match graphic by @cole007