Manchester United’s second string travel to Upton Park this evening in the continuing quest to win a third Carling Cup in a row. Sir Alex Ferguson’s youth and fringe players will be offered another chance to shine, with momentum also key after United’s thumping 7-1 win over Blackburn Rovers at Old Trafford last weekend.
However, Ferguson could make 11 changes to the side that beat Rovers, with ‘keeper Ben Amos set to start and Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Javier Hernández almost certainly involved.
“It would be great to win it three times in a row. The League Cup has become an interesting trophy now,” said Ferguson.
“We come into it a bit later and it gives me an opportunity to play the young players as I did against Wolves. They responded very well.
“The players who played against Wolves are hopefully the future of the club. There’s a great potential there. All we have to do is develop that potential and realise it. By the time they are 24 or 25, we hope they will be the next Manchester United.”
The match could also offer young wingers Bébé and Gabriel Obertan another chance in the first team picture against West Ham United. Obertan scored a stunning goal against Bursaspor recently, while Bébé struck a magnificent double for the reserves last week.
Indeed, the match is perhaps more crucial to Obertan, who has now been at the club for 18 months but is yet to break into the first team on a regular basis despite injuries to Ryan Giggs and Antonio Valencia.
Of those who started on Saturday perhaps only Anderson could feature tonight, with the Brazilian short of minutes this season. The player’s forceful performance against Rovers was a reminder of those early in his United career. However, in the past two seasons the midfielder has failed to progress, with injuries and temperament holding the 23-year-old back.
But it is United’s youngsters whom are the focus tonight, with 20-year-old Amos hoping to force his way into the first team picture. Surprisingly promoted to number three ‘keeper after Ben Foster’s departure in the summer, Amos says that he is learning from Edwin van der Sar every day.
“I’ve said a few times that it is a little bit like training with your dad,” the Macclesfield-born player told ManUtd.com.
“I don’t think he’ll appreciate that, but he’s great. I’m chewing at his ear all the time, trying to get bits of advice. He’s very open and he says what he thinks.
“There’s only one position and we train a lot, training everyday without playing is difficult, but you’ve just got to keep yourself motivated and make sure you’re ready and available when you’re needed.
“The next game is always a target for me. They don’t come round too often being the number three keeper, so I’ve just got to make sure I’m ready and I’m peaking when those games come around.”
United’s last defeat in this competition came in September 2008 when Coventry City won 2-0 at Old Trafford in the third round. Since which time Ferguson’s fringe side picked up the trophies in Spring 2009 and 2010.
United’s recent record against West Ham is excellent too, despite the painful results in 1995 and 1992, which cost United the Premier League. Ferguson’s side has scored 13 goals without reply against the Hammers in the last five meetings between the sides, with the Reds winning the last half-dozen encounters.
Meanwhile, West Ham is expected to field a strong team, although key players Frederic Piquionne, Valon Behrami and Scott Parker miss the game through injury. Danny Gabbidon, Herita Ilunga, and Kieron Dyer joined Mark Noble, Manuel da Costa, Jack Collison and Thomas Hitzlsperger as long-term absentees this week, while Lars Jacobsen is cup-tied.
However, Mexican winger Pablo Barrera is looking forward to meeting compatriot Hernández with whom he stared at the World Cup in South Africa.
“I know him well. We first played alongside each other for the under-20 national team when we were 18 or 19 years old. He’s a year younger than me,” said Barrera.
“He’s a good guy. He’s laid back but works hard, is very conscientious and is a good player.”
Given Hernández’ scoring record this season, few would bet against the striker hitting the net again tonight.
West Ham – 442 – Green; Gabbidon, Jacobsen, Upson, Tomkins; Kovac, Behrami, Barrera, Stanislas; Piquionne, Obinna.
Subs from: Boffin, Boa Morte, Hines, McCarthy, Reid, Cole, Spector, Faubert, Nouble, Spence, Kurucz, Stech, Brown.
United – 442 – Amos; Neville, Smalling, Evans, Fábio; Bébé, Gibson, O’Shea, Obertan; Macheda, Hernández.
Subs from: Rafael, Brown, Anderson, Carrick, Park, Eikrem, Dudgeon, Gill, Morrison, Brady, Kuszczak, Fletcher, Giggs.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Assistant referees: R S Ganfield & S Ledger
Fourth official: Andre Marriner
West Ham – LDDDLW
United – WDDWWW