United v Cambridge: Mata demands respect
Cambridge United supporters have taken up more than 6,600 tickets for Tuesday night’s FA Cup fourth round replay at Old Trafford on Tuesday. Indeed, Us supporters might have made a more significant proportion of Old Trafford’s crowd on the night had it not been for the Glazer family’s universally hated ‘automatic cup ticket scheme’. The magic of the cup indeed. But it is reward well-earned for fans of the East Anglian side after Cambridge’s redoubtable performance at Abbey Stadium 10 days ago.
Louis van Gaal’s side should dispatch Cambridge with ease despite the scoreless draw in the first match between these sides. Should the Dutchman require any tips then he need look no further than Cambridge’s 3-2 defeat at Luton Town last weekend. Heady times for Cambridge, perhaps, but it was a result that brought the mid-table League Two side back down to earth.
This has been a glamour tie for a side that has spent much of the last decade in non-league football – and a healthy earner too. Cambridge will take home more than £500,000 over the two games.
Meanwhile, United recovered strongly at the weekend in defeating Leicester City at Old Trafford. The fixture may have ended on a limp note, but the Reds were utterly dominant for the first 45 minutes before taking Van Gaal’s instruction to close out the game. And in the process some Reds, who had disappointed at times this season, instead impressed; Adnan Januzaj, Radamel Falcao, Luke Shaw and Daley Blind among the number.
It leaves Van Gaal with a familiar dilemma – to push on with his strongest side, and secure a place in the FA Cup fifth round, or to rest key players ahead of the weekend’s difficult fixture with West Ham United at the Boleyn Ground. After all, United’s Premier League record on-the-road this season is just the seventh best in the league. The Dutchman could do without the headache of any further injuries this season.
Van Gaal’s selection hinges on his decision to use, or otherwise, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie in particular – both of whom might normally be expected to sit out a tie United should win comfortably. Meanwhile, in midfield, Januzaj, Ander Herrera and Juan Mata, who was dropped on Saturday, will all hope to feature.
At least Van Gaal has a largely fit squad to choose from. Ashley Young and Michael Carrick are absentees through injury, but Chris Smalling made the bench against the Foxes and could start. Jonny Evans is unlikely to be risked, with the Northern Irishman only just returning from injury. Darren Fletch is in the match day squad after a proposed move to West Ham collapsed this week.
Either way there should be no lack of focus in Van Gaal’s camp. Although the Dutchman talked a strong game before United’s limp draw in the east of England, his players’ complacency shone through most. After more than a decade without the FA Cup few supporters were impressed. Not least because the cup remains United’s only realistic chance of silverware this season.
“We want to make it to the next round and we are absolutely focused on that because the team is very excited about this competition,” said Juan Mata in his weekly blog post.
“Against Leicester, we were able to take our good chances in the first half and that allowed us to have a quiet game and to enjoy it more than other weeks. We don’t want to relax though. Every game is complicated.
“In sports, having respect for your opponent is a must. Even more so in football, where distances have shortened. That is something we are aware of ahead of our game against Cambridge. Not long ago, they proved to be a tough rival.”
Meanwhile, Richard Money’s side arrives in reasonably good shape despite the weekend defeat. Midfielder Liam Hughes, who injured an ankle in the first tie, is out together with fellow Harrison Dunk, but Ryan Donaldson should overcome a minor knee problem. Donaldson impressed with direct running and high-quality delivery from the right-wing in Cambridge – a player who might ordinarily have made it to a higher level.
Still, Money took positives in the loss at Luton where Cambridge almost snatched an unlikely draw after shipping three goals in the first half.
“We’ve got a big game to play tomorrow and it was very important that, while feeling the disappointment of defeat, you’ve got to take the positives from what you’ve done,” said Money on Monday.
“To get the tie in the first place was like winning the pools, and to draw the first game to get the second game was like winning the lottery. That’s the significance of what we’ve done for our football club. We’ll go to Old Trafford and do exactly what we tried to do in the first game, which was to play as well as we possibly can.”
Van Gaal demands nothing short of comfortable victory against Cambridge, of course, although supporters might also look for a strong performance. After all the narrative of the season has now shifted away from ill-fortune and injury to a focus on just how far United has progressed under the new manager. The Dutchman remains on the defensive.
“In spite of all the criticism we have had, we are still in the FA Cup and a lot of teams are not,” said Van Gaal on Monday.
“But you have to win because they are coming also with two rows of four and a goalkeeper and dropping in a striker, and you have to make the first goal because that is the most important goal, so it’s not such an easy game.
“Manchester United have not won it for 11 years, so not always the best team win it – it’s also the underdog. That’s our warning for Tuesday.”
Yet, with more than £150 million spent over the summer fans hoped for more than the cautious approach delivered to date. Then again Van Gaal sent out a team to ‘not lose’ in east Anglia. The philosophy will surely be a little more positive on Tuesday night.
United (4-3-1-2): De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Rojo, Shaw; Herrera, Blind, Januzaj; Di Maria; Wilson, Falcao
Cambridge (4-4-2): Dunn; Tait, Taylor, Coulson, Nelson; Donaldson, Champion, McGeehan, Kaikai; Elliott, Bird
United: De Gea, Rafael, McNair, Smalling, Blackett, Pereira, Mata, Fletcher, Van Persie, Rooney
Cambridge: Norris, Miller, Hunt, Simpson, Bird, Chiedozie, Chadwick, Akintunde, Ball
United 1 – Draw 2 – Cambridge 0
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Assistant Referees: Gary Beswick & Lee Betts
Fourth Official: Robert Madley
United 5-0 Cambridge
£1 bet club
James Wilson hat-trick @ 15/1
Running total: £(-)14