Month September 2010

Month September 2010

Reds face tough Bolton trip

September 25, 2010 Tags: , Matches 133 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will return to the Manchester United bench against Bolton Wanderers – baring a last-minute scouting trip to Wolverhampton of course – after his midweek Spanish sojourn. The Scot returns to lead United as the Reds look to maintain Premier League momentum after last weekend’s victory over Liverpool.

The Reebok Stadium has been a happy hunting ground in recent seasons, with United cruising to a comfortable 4-0 win last season and four victories in the last five visits across Lancashire. Dimitar Berbatov struck twice in March, and the Bulgarian, who has scored seven in six games this season, will look to continue the rich vein of form that brought a hat-trick against Liverpool last weekend.

Indeed, with Wayne Rooney suffering under the weight of severe media scrutiny it is to the Bulgarian that United will look as Ferguson’s side faces three challenging away fixtures in the next six days. With the press on Rooney’s tail, Ferguson gives the impression that his star player’s malaise may last months not weeks.

“I don’t believe he has a confidence problem but the boy is starting to realise finally, without any question, what kind of focus is on him as a human being,” said Ferguson this week.

“He is realising what it means to be at the centre of media attention for non-football-related questions.

“I don’t think the boy can turn a corner at the moment without a camera on him. He can’t move without the paparazzi being on him and, for a young person, that is not what you want. You want to play and enjoy your football without that attention on you, because that can be quite exhausting.”

Exhausting is probably a fair description of United’s schedule over the next week as well, with the fixture against Valencia in the south-eastern Spanish city next Wednesday followed rapidly by a visit to Sunderland. With that in mind Ferguson is likely to rotate his resources, despite United fielding a shadow side against Scunthorpe United in midweek.

Ferguson, mindful of Paul Scholes’ inability to play three games in a week, may choose to rest the flame-haired midfielder tomorrow with the midweek Champions League fixture taking priority. United can close in on Chelsea after the Londoners’ failure at Manchester City today but the Scot can call on Anderson, who completed the full 90 minutes against Scunthorpe, and Michael Carrick who is fit again after an achilles heel problem.

Meanwhile Ferguson will not consider Owen Hargreaves, who returned to first team training this week after two months rehabilitation in Denver, despite expressing surprise at the Canadian-born midfielder’s progress in the past week.

In defence captain Nemanja Vidic is likely to partner Rio Ferdinand as United look to continue an unbeaten run that has been punctuated by poor defending this season. The undoubtedly talented but out-of-form Jonny Evans will drop to the bench on Rio’s return.

Berbatov meanwhile claims to have overcome the kind of self-doubt that has permeated the Bulgarian’s stay in Manchester. Unfairly labelled both aloof and arrogant, the £30.5 million striker is now benefiting both from a summer fitness programme and a renewed sense of belief that comes with regular scoring.

The former Tottenham Hotspur player now admits what many have suspected: the transfer fee has weighed heavily for the past two seasons.

“You try not to think about it but sometimes you just can’t help it,” said Berbatov.

“You start thinking it’s a lot of money and what’s going to happen if you don’t prove you’re good enough for that amount of money and if you don’t score enough goals.

“These thoughts are always going through my mind and sometimes it can be bad for your concentration because it does distract you from the goal I have to play and enjoy my football.”

Fortunate for United then that Owen Coyle’s Bolton must face a renewed Berbatov without Gary Cahill, the defender who has forced his way into Fabio Capello’s England plans this year. The Trotters will also be without Ricardo Gardner, Andrew O’Brien and Jlloyd Samuel for the local derby.

Bolton – Bogdán; Steinsson, Knight, Ricketts, Robinson; Petrov, Muamba, Holden; Chung-Yong, K Davies, Elmander. Subs from: Lainton, Klasnic, Moreno, Blake, Taylor, M Davies, Mustapha, Klasnić, Rodrigo, Cohen, Blake, Davis, Alonso.

Referee: Phil Dowd
Assistant referees: Bob Pollock & Glenn Turner
Fourth official: Mark Clattenburg

Bolton – WWDLDL
United – DWDDWW

What’s the point of Michael Owen?

September 24, 2010 Tags: Opinion 36 comments

It’s a question asked not in some evanescent sense but in search of something far more tangible, even though the player’s Liverpool past means Manchester United supporters will take the question either way. But for now it is enough to ponder striker’s worth to Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad, with Aston Villa potentially interested in taking Owen.

After all, of Owen’s 11 goals in a United shirt to date, just two have any significant meaning; his 96th minute strike against Manchester City at Old Trafford and the Carling Cup final goal that brought Ferguson’s side back into the tie. The rest have come in the earlier rounds of the Carling Cup, against relegation-threatened Premier League outfits and, of course, the dead-rubber hat-trick against Wolfsburg in the Champions League.

Indeed, analysis of Owen’s goals – City and Villa games aside – show that only his goal against CSKA Moscow at Old Trafford made a difference to the result.

It’s hardly more than anyone can have expected, with time and injury having taken a toll of the player’s cutting edge that once brought Owen around 40 goals in 80 international appearances. In retrospect Owen’s peak years came between 18 and 23 years old. Today, the player is a shadow of his former self – a squad player on United’s books as much for the economic benefits of cheap labour, as for his output.

With Javier Hernández and Federico Macheda breathing down Owen’s neck, the question is, does Ferguson even need the player in his squad?

This week Owen scored twice against Scunthorpe United in the Carling Cup. Plus ça change. The former Liverpool player has found his level, it seems.

“It’s been a strange start to the season. We’ve played weekend-weekend-weekend and then into a double-header international break so the manager’s kept a similar team through those three games,” said Owen, sounding as if he’s trying to convince himself of his own worth.

“There’s been a lot of us that haven’t played in the first month of the season but now the Champions League’s started, the League Cup’s started and there’s Premier League games all the time so I’d like to think there’s going to be plenty of games coming thick and fast.

“It’s a difficult juggling act for the manager because he’s got young kids that he wants to bring through, then there’s players that have been injured coming back and players that need the games.

“It’s par for the course at Manchester United. But it’s a bit false at the minute because there have been so few games.”

Yet Owen is unlikely to feature any more than last season, when the 31-year-old started just 11 games. Injury permitting Owen will at least be available for the run-in. But with the player rarely featuring in United’s most crucial games there seems no realistic scenario – an injury crisis aside – in which Owen can force his way into the team.

If history has any baring, Owen is the most likely to be injured first. Moreover, the former England international’s very presence in the squad could be harmful to both Hernández and Macheda, each of whom needs games to develop. The same was also true of Macheda and Wellbeck last year.

While it is fair for Chicharito to take his time settling in England, Macheda faces the very real prospect of a third season playing reserve team football. It’s not a good scenario for either United nor the player, even if Ferguson described the Italian teenager as “fantastic” this week.

“Macheda is only 19 and he is doing magnificently,” Ferguson told Gazzetta dello Sport today.

“What a future for the Italian national team when they are both (Macheda and Balotelli) ready together. I am very satisfied with Chicco. He is simply fantastic.”

Fantastic Macheda may become, but if he is not to go the way of Giuseppe Rossi before him, time on the pitch in the United side is the only answer. Owen is a major roadblock to that process. Macheda cannot even be guaranteed a Carling Cup spot in his favourite position, having played on the left-wing against Scunthorpe.

Yet, there seems little likelihood that Ferguson will choose to cut his options this season, with the fee on offer from Villa not substantial. It means another season largely on the sidelines for Owen; another campaign even further away from the first team for Macheda, who may begin to wonder whether it’ll ever happen for him at Old Trafford.

Rant Cast 40 – is man love de Gea?

September 24, 2010 Tags: Rant Cast 3 comments

In this episode of Rant Cast regulars Ed & Paul look back on the wonderful Old Trafford win over Liverpool and United (reserves) victory at Glandford Park, Scunthorpe. We wonder why Sir Alex Ferguson couldn’t be bothered to turn up though – did the chance of a mid-season tan on the Mediterranean hold just too much appeal?

We also preview the week’s coming matches, talk about Bébé’s début and – hopefully – welcome Owen Hargreaves back into the United fold.

Stream this episode of the podcast using the player below or click here to download the podcast (right click & save as).

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Hargo is back pt. XXIX

September 24, 2010 Tags: Shorts 7 comments

Owen Hargreaves is back in first team training and almost ready for a first team return says Sir Alex Ferguson. It is more than two years since the Canadian-born midfielder last started a game for Manchester United but Ferguson says that his progress has surprised him and that Hargreaves is pushing hard for a return to first team action.

Hargreaves played 45 minutes of a reserve fixture last season before at 30 second first team cameo away at Sunderland. But a serious relapse this summer meant that the former Bayern Munich midfielder did not travel with the United party on the North American tour. Instead, Hargreaves, 29, returned to Dr. Richard Steadman’s renowned Denver clinic more treatment.

“Owen Hargreaves has come back training, he trained yesterday with the first team. He looked very good. I was surprised actually how good he was looking,” said Ferguson told MUTV this morning, with all other press outlets banned from Carrington.

“It’s an extra string to our bow. Bringing him in at this time, after being out for so long, obviously we’ll have to monitor him and see how he’s going to progress in the next few weeks. But it’s good to see him back.

“Because he’s been out for so long you have to see whether there’s going to be a relapse. That’s the first thing on our mind at the moment but having watched him in training yesterday if he continues that way he’s going to give me another selection problem, no question about that.”

Hargreaves last started a game for United against Chelsea on 21 September 2008, after which the midfielder said he couldn’t walk for four days. Although named in Ferguson’s Premier League squad with just 24 senior players included, Hargreaves is not part of United’s Champions League party.

Fergie’s seaside visit just a little fishy

September 23, 2010 Tags: Opinion 34 comments

Strictly speaking Sir Alex Ferguson’s absence last night was very much with leave, as the Manchester United manager spent the night in the port city of Valencia, ostensibly scouting the club’s next Champions League opponents. The Scot sat beside goalkeeping coach Eric Steel at the Mestalla as the home side drew 1-1 with Atlético de Madrid.

Ferguson missed his side’s 5-2 victory over Scunthorpe United in the Carling Cup, with the club’s official position that the Manchester United manager was in Valencia scouting the Southern Spanish opponents. However, Steele’s involvement prompts an assumption that Ferguson’s mission had a touch of smokescreen about it, with coveted 19-year-old Madrid goalkeeper David De Gea the true target.

Even so, Ferguson’s absence last night is remarkable, not because the Carling Cup is a serious priority in comparison to Champions League advancement but that he has never chosen to do so before. United has specialist scouts and many opportunities this season to run-the-rule over De Gea.

Indeed, the Scot’s previous absences from match duty came against Manchester City in November 2000, when he was at his son’s wedding, and then the 3-2 defeat to Middlesbrough in February 2004, when he attended a family funeral.

“It’s important after the Rangers games that we prepare properly and get a good view of Valencia, who’ve started their season very well,” claimed Phelan.

“He chose to go and watch the Valencia game. We need to go there knowing what we’re up against. He’s the manager and he had to make a decision.”

“We put a big value on the Carling Cup. We’ve never set out to demean the Carling Cup. We’re holders, we’ve done that two years in a row and you can see from the players’ attitude that we want to keep hold of it.”

Ferguson’s absence leaves a number of questions though, with the manager previously only missing matches due to family commitments. Indeed, while Ferguson may well trust his staff, as the temporarily-in-charge Mike Phelan claimed last night, he has never previously felt the need to scout a European opposition at the expense of his own side.

After all United has faced many more difficult ties in Europe before – on paper at least – than a trip to the Mestalla, with the club’s two stars David Villa and David Silva now departed for new pastures. The Murciélagos also sold Nikola Žigić, Carlos Marchena and Alexis Ruano during the summer, with €600 million of reported debts to clear.

Despite the sales Valencia remains one of the more attractive La Liga sides, frequently deploying two strikers and exploiting the flanks through Joaquín Sánchez and Juan Mata. That much an amateur scout can report.

Moreover, despite the draw with Rangers last week, Ferguson’s side has been in a more precarious group stage predicament in the past, including the abysmal 2005/6 season in which the Scot’s side was knocked out at the group stage. The disastrous loss to Lille that effectively sealed United’s fate was preceded by a similarly meaningless Carling Cup tie against Barnet, which Ferguson attended.

True, should United lose to Valencia then Ferguson’s side will probably need to win in Glasgow or Bursa, but the implication that United has normally under-prepared for European ties is a serious one. Quite what the club’s chief European scout Martin Ferguson makes of the charge is another matter. Being keen on value, Ferguson could even have hit Sky+ and recorded the match, which was broadcast live on Sky Sports 3 last night.

The alternative viewpoint, one that Phelan attempted to head off at the pass, is that Ferguson not only disrespected the Carling Cup but also the young players for whom the Scot has professed such hope.

That leaves the issue of De Gea, the flip side of a very strange coin. The talented 6’3″ teenager, who was named by Spanish national team manager Vicente del Bosque in a provisional 30-man World Cup squad, has played just 35 games for Atlético. But such is the player’s progress and undoubted presence that it seems only a matter of time before one of Europe’s leading club’s makes the capital side a serious offer.

Certainly Steele’s presence means De Gea is of interest, with United unlikely to want Valencia’s 39-year-old ‘keeper César Sánchez. De Gea will have impressed the United party too, with the teenager pulling off a string of saves in a man-of-the-match performance.

Ferguson is due to return to Manchester today, although he will not face the press as normal Friday morning when clarification of the trip’s motivation would have surely been sought. The Scot today threw his toys out of the pram and cancelled the regular press conference, apparently due to his displeasure at the media’s coverage of his comments about Fernando Torres last weekend.

It only adds to the aura of suspicion that surrounds the trip.

Phelan in charge as United cruise to Carling win

September 23, 2010 Tags: , Matches 12 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson was absent – the official cover a scouting trip to watch Valencia, Manchester United’s next Champions League opponents – but it mattered little to the shadow side at Glandford Park. United’s fringe players overcame a shaky start and a Scunthorpe United goal, to score five and progress in the Carling Cup, thanks to a Michael Owen brace.

Assistant manager Mike Phelan oversaw the squad in Ferguson’s absence, only the third game the United manager has ever missed while in charge at Old Trafford. But Ferguson had little cause for concern with United eventually running out comfortable winners in Lincolnshire.

Owen’s double, a first goal in professional football for Chris Smalling, Darron Gibson’s classy finish and Park Ji-Sung ensured a positive result for Phelan on his big night. With Rio Ferdinand completing 90 minutes, Smalling outstanding at the back and Bébé performing brightly in a 15 minute cameo, the assistant has many positives to report back when Ferguson returns to Manchester.

“Rio’s done well, but I thought also Michael Owen did exceptionally well. He showed what a top, top player he is and he contributed to everything tonight – he covered the ground really well,” said Phelan, who spent much of the night gazing into space while looking pensive.

“We have a young player in Chris Smalling who did well, then there were Kiko Macheda and Chicharito, and we introduced Bébé as well. The keeper (Tomasz Kuszczak) did exceptionally well. He dealt with everything that came his way.”

But United’s shadow team began on the back foot, with Championship minnows Scunthorpe taking the game to its more illustrious opponents in the compact Glandford Park. Indeed, Kuszczak was called into action early with Josh Wright and Martyn Woolford going close, and Tomasz Kuszczak forced to save from Eddie Nolan’s long-range shot.

United’s 4-3-3 system, which pushed Javier Hernández and Federico Macheda into unfamiliar wide positions, played into the home side’s hands, with Scunthorpe exploiting space on United’s flanks during the first period. The unthinkable, a home goal, was in fact much deserved as Wright lashed home from 25 yards after Woolford’s run on 19 minutes.

The lead and any thoughts of a cup upset lasted barely five minutes when Gibson lobbed the Scunthorpe ‘keeper after Smalling’s raking long pass. The Irishman, who’d begun the game in sloppy fashion by losing possession more than once, scored his second goal of the season.

With Scunthorpe playing attractive attacking football United was able to open up the home side almost at will, with Park finding Smalling and the defender smartly finishing on the volley ten minutes before the break.

Goals three, four and five followed shortly after the interval with Owen released by Macheda to score his fourth Carling Cup goal in as many starts for United in the tournament. The striker, largely ignored for anything but the least important matches, is quickly falling down the ranks at United.

Park lashed home United’s fourth from the edge of the area before Owen tapped home the South Korean’s drive to complete the scoring. Woolford’s late consolation for the home side was little more than Scunthorpe deserved for a spirited display.

Although United’s shape crammed more square pegs into round holes than is usual, with Rafael da Silva joining Hernandez and Macheda out of position, width finally came in the form of late substitutes Gabriel Obertan and Bébé. The £7.4 million Portuguese forward looked bright running with the ball, beating two men and striking a blocked goal-bound shot with his first taste of action.

“The scoreline gave us the opportunity to give Bébé a little look at what Manchester United’s all about. I thought he responded very well,” Phelan told MUTV.

“There were fleeting moments of pace and power, and he got a little bit excited now and again. But it’s important that players like him get these opportunities.”

Even better than Bébé, Smalling showed some of the talent that prompted United to seal a £10 million deal for the defender in January. The 6’ 4″ centre-back looked composed on the ball and dominant in the air against the Championship side, in a man-of-the-match performance.

Incredibly the official award went to Kuszczak, who made 19 saves on the night but flapped at several crosses and spilled more than one shot. That, Tomasz, is why you don’t play every week.

“Since he’s come in, he’s become sharper every day,” said Smalling of Bébé’s début.

“He’s really improving and working on his fitness. Tonight he really caused their full-back problems, coming in from the wing, and hopefully we’ll see him produce that kind of form in many games to come.”

United fans will concur.

Match facts

United – 433 – Kuszczak; Ferdinand, Brown, Smalling, Rafael Da Silva; Anderson, Park Ji-Sung (Bebe 74), Gibson; Owen, Hernandez (Obertan 68), Macheda

Attendance: 9,077
Man-of-the-Match: Chris Smalling

Possession: Scunthorpe 51% – 49% United
Attempts: 29 – 13
On target: 19 – 12
Corners: 9 – 5
Fouls: 5 – 8

Fergie claims Bébé progress

September 22, 2010 Tags: Shorts 1 comment

Sir Alex Ferguson has insisted that Manchester United supporters will witness the progress made by Bébé, who will make his first team début against Scunthorpe United in the Carling Cup tonight. United paid Vitória de Guimarães £7.4 million in August for the 20-year-old winger in one of the most surprising deals this summer.

Claiming “exceptional circumstances” provoked the deal, Ferguson admits that the winger’s signature is a leap in the dark. The deal has been the subject of significant scrutiny, both by supporters and the media in recent weeks.

But Ferguson says that early criticism of the player is unfair and the fitness work undertaken by United will pay dividends this season.

“We have a scout in Portugal where we asked him about this young player playing in second division in Portugal,” Sir Alex told CNN International today.

“There was a complication apparently in his contract which allowed him to leave to go to Guimarães and he’d only played three of four games and our scouts insisted that we should sign him.

“It was a bit of a leap into the dark really because we hadn’t seen him play, we sent down one of our scouts down with Antonio from Portugal to see him play in the last game before we signed him and then he comes up and says ‘there’s something exceptional here, we’ll maybe seeing something really special’, and so we took the gamble – we took the gamble.

“I think Real Madrid and Benfica were starting to move in, it was one of those instinctive things, you have a smell about something and you take it.

“Physically, he wasn’t ready, hasn’t done a proper pre-season, so the last few weeks since he’s joined, we’ve been working on him physically. He’s now played one reserve game and he’ll be involved in the team tomorrow at Scunthorpe and you’ll see the progress now.”

Bébé made his reserve team début against Aston Villa last week. Ferguson was speaking to CNN International:

Bébé’s big chance to impress

September 22, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 11 comments

Bébé will play tonight against Scunthorpe United in the Carling Cup second round, with supporters wondering if the £7.4 million Portuguese winger has what it takes to be a Manchester United player. The 20-year-old has featured in just two Under-21 fixtures and a reserve game since his surprise transfer from Vitória de Guimarães in August.

While it is nothing new for Sir Alex Ferguson to spend millions on a player there is perhaps more interest in Bébé’s début than any other in recent times. The intrigue about the financial aspect of the deal, together with the rags-to-riches story of the player’s rise to professional football, have ensured as much.

Indeed, so little is known about the player that he has garnered far more press interest than similarly priced acquisitions at United in recent seasons. The handful of games United supporters have witnessed Bébé play to date have offered little conclusive proof of the player’s ability to make it at Old Trafford or otherwise.

In the three fixtures since the 11 August transfer United supporters have seen Bébé look somewhat uncomfortable in a lone-striker’s role against England Under-21, score against Macedonia Under-21 and impress with his pace – if not crossing accuracy – against Aston Villa reserves. Not that the player has any doubts about his future with the club.

“After a couple more games I will be better,” the player told the Manchester Evening News last week.

“I have to be fitter because it’s a different type of football in England. I am going to be a brilliant player for Manchester United.

“I don’t know when I will be ready for the first team. I need to work hard and a lot depends on the boss whether he calls me into the team or not.

“Sir Alex has told me he is very happy with me and he wants me to train more and get into the first team.”

But Bébé’s confidence hasn’t stopped the spotlight falling firmly on the deal, with the Daily Mail printing a series of negative articles about the Agualva-Cacém-born forward.

In many ways the deal for Bébé is achronistic of our times, with global scouting networks now so advanced boys as young as eight are transported across continents to sign for the world’s biggest clubs. That United failed to sign the player for a reported fee of €150,000 last January is matched in its wastefulness only by the knowledge Bebé was available for free earlier this summer.

Vitória’s financial gain is United’s loss of course, but if the failure of the club’s scouts to spot Bébé’s talent earlier has cost United financially, then the game’s money-men are probably at the root of the matter. After all the very late injection into the deal of Jorge Mendes, the Portuguese agent who has represented some of the leading lights in the nation including Jose Mourinho,  almost certainly increased the cost.

Mendes’ appointment as Bébé’s agent, it is said, precipitated the sacking of the player’s original representative just days before United bought out the €9 million release clause. That Vitória offered Bébé a new contract in the week before United pounced, increasing the release clause fee, only adds to the aura of suspicion around the deal.

After all, it’s not the first time United has overpaid for a Portuguese player, with Cristiano Ronaldo available for at least £7 million less than his eventual fee  just weeks earlier than his 2003 transfer to Old Trafford. Anderson and to a lesser extent Nani also commanded higher fees than their status suggested when they transferred to United in summer 2007.

Moreover, some of the club’s transfer dealings at the lower end of the market can be called into question over the past five years. The site of a palpably under-qualified Dong Fangzou in a United shirt brought fewer questions than it should have. Manucho Gonçalves, another Portuguese-influenced import, was hardly qualified to play for the club either. He now plays for newly promoted Turkish Süper Lig outfit Burcaspor.

Similar questions will rightly be asked of the deals for Gabriel Obertan and Mame Biram Diouf if, as many suspect, neither makes it at United. Just as they have been of the Serbian winger Zoran Tošić and Diego Forlan before.

None of that is Bébé’s fault of course but the pressure of scrutiny is already bearing down on a player, who by all accounts, is on the very raw side.

As such Bébé cannot succeed against Scunthorpe. A strong performance is mitigated by the quality of opposition; failure and the finger of blame will search for those whom sanctioned the deal.

Reds begin Carling Cup defence

September 21, 2010 Tags: , Matches 112 comments

Manchester United’s attempt to win a third straight Carling Cup begins on Wednesday night with a visit to the Google-unfriendly Scunthorpe United. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson will take a shadow squad to Glanford Park that could include Bebé and Gabriel Obertan in the party, alongside fringe, youth and star names returning to peak fitness.

Managed by 39-year-old caretaker Ian Baraclough in the wake of Nigel Adkins’ departure to Southampton, Championship side Scunthorpe remained in the division by just five points last season. It’s a notable achievement though, especially for a club in just its third campaign ever fought in the second tier of English football. Perhaps more so because with average gates a little over 5,000 The Iron boasts the smallest budget in the division.

Following a fight to save the club from relegation to League Two six years ago, Scunthorpe has enjoyed three promotions and a Johnstones Paint Trophy final appearance in 2009. But despite residing at the relatively new, although admittedly very basic Glandford Park, Scunthorpe remains favourites for the drop into League One this season.

Indeed, there is ample contrast to be made on United’s visit, albeit with Ferguson’s shadow squad in town, with the Reds likely to field up to seven full internationals in the starting team.

Of the senior players in United’s 18-man squad for the trip to Lincolnshire, Michael Owen will definitely play, while it will be no surprise if Park Ji-Sung, Anderson, Javer Hernández, Tomasz Kuszczak, Darron Gibson, Gary Neville, Chris Smalling, Obertan and the da Silva brothers also start.

Ferguson could use Rio Ferdinand at some point. The defender sat out United’s 3-2 victory over Liverpool with a stomach bug but is short of first team minutes this season.

“We played a lot of young players last season and they all acquitted themselves well,” Sir Alex told

“We’ll do the same tomorrow at Scunthorpe. A lot of my young players will play. Bebé is training very well. He’ll be involved tomorrow night. Federico Macheda will as well.

“The Carling Cup’s served us well over the last few seasons – it allows me to keep everybody happy in terms of giving people games and we’ve reached the last two finals, which has its obvious advantages. Playing at Wembley and competing for medals on the big stage is terrific for players’ development.”

Perhaps most exciting though is the prospect of Bebé in a first team shirt. The £7.4 million Portuguese winger has played just one reserve game and a brace of Under-21 fixtures since a surprise transfer from Vitória de Guimarães in August. But with a month of conditioning work behind him, many believe Bebé is ready for his début, after being left out of the reserves’ 5-1 victory over Bury last night.

“I am going to be a brilliant player for Manchester United,” the 20-year-old told the Manchester Evening News last week.

“After a couple more games I will be better. I have to be fitter because it’s a different type of football in England.

“I don’t know when I will be ready for the first team. I need to work hard and a lot depends on the boss whether he calls me into the team or not.

“Sir Alex has told me he is very happy with me and he wants me to train more and get into the first team.”

Chalkboard v ScunthorpeOwen, meanwhile, will start for the first time this season, having been force to wait in line behind Dimitar Berbatov, Wayne Rooney and new signing Hernández this season. It has been a period of frustration for the former Liverpool striker, who papers have linked with a January move to Gerard Houlier’s Aston Villa.

“I understand Michael’s frustration – he’s exactly right – but it’s because Berbatov started the season so well, then the international break came. It’s difficult,” Ferguson adds.

“We’ve got this Carling Cup game and he’ll start that. He’ll get enough football.”

Owen has made just 12 starts and 23 substitute appearances for United, scoring nine goals since the free transfer move from Newcastle United last summer. The 31-year-old former England striker scored in last season’s final against Aston Villa as United took the trophy for the second season in a row. Indeed, outside of the Carling Cup Owen has made just six starts for the club.

Once again the Carling Cup will offer a refuge for United’s younger and fringe players this season, with few having been used by manager Ferguson, despite the Scot’s professed faith in youth.

Indeed, with striker Federico Macheda unlikely to start for United at Owen’s expense the Italian is facing up to a third staight season of reserve team football and occasional substitute appearances.

Meanwhile, Iron manager Baraclough has no new injury worries ahead of United’s visit. Centre-back Rob Jones is fit again after a knee injury but may settle for a place on the bench with Niall Canavan starting. Garry Thompson remains sidelined with a groin injury and on-loan Brighton left-back Jim McNulty is out with an ankle problem.

“We’ve got this absolutely massive occasion with Manchester United coming to town, and there should be an incredible atmosphere in the stadium. But there will be no pressure on us to win the game except the pressure we put on ourselves,” said Baraclough, who is likely to be named as Scunthorpe’s permanent manager.

“Whatever team United put out it will be full of internationals, and if they’re at their best then our chances of winning will be minimal. But if we’re at our best and they have an off-night, there’s no reason why we can’t win the game.”

Scunthorpe has beaten Sheffield Wednesday and Oldham on route to the Carling Cup second round this season.

Scunthorpe – 442 – Murphy; Byrne, Mirfin, Canavan, Nolan; J Wright, O’Connor, Togwell, Collins; Forte, Dagnall. Subs from: A Wright, Jones, Woolford, Thompson, Raynes, Slocombe, Grant, Boyes, Milne, Nolan, Coleman, Godden, Williams, McClenahan, Turner.

Referee: M L DEAN
Assistands: W D Smallwood & S J Long
Fourth Official: L S Mason

United – WDWDDW
Scunthorpe – WLWWDW