Tag Carling Cup

Tag Carling Cup

The kids are… on the bench

December 1, 2011 Tags: , , Reads 5 comments

When Sir Alex Ferguson transplanted the ‘class of 92’ from the FA Youth Cup to a third round League Cup tie against Port Vale in 1994 the Scot pioneered the concept of blooding youngsters in the competition. Ferguson was subject to severe criticism for the move, accused, effectively, of devaluing the tournament. Today, few leading clubs roll out the first team in the cup’s early rounds, paying homage to Ferguson’s vision, while the media no longer questions the policy. In that there is a compliment to the Scot’s understanding of what we now call the squad game.

Yet, perversely, Ferguson has offered last season’s winning FA Youth Cup team few chances in the current Carling Cup campaign, much against the perceived norm, with the boss instead preferring to offer minutes to fringe senior pros. The most talented group of United’s youngsters for a generation is seemingly out in the cold when it comes to the first team.

This season’s policy must genuinely be a frustrating one for the youngster’s involved, with Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison much talked about, but rarely seen in a first team shirt. Such is the wealth of Ferguson’s squad resources perhaps. But while Ferguson’s policy is pragmatic, balancing the need to keep senior players happy and match fit, it has restricted opportunities for those whose star is on the rise, while seemingly entrenching an age-based squad hierarchy.

Indeed, Ferguson’s Carling Cup policy this season, while pragmatic, could have negative consequences for half-a-dozen youth teamers, while offering little upside to the squad’s fringe.

Manchester United’s 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace on Wednesday night is a case in point, with Mame Biram Diouf and Darron Gibson starting for the home side. Neither is likely to last at Old Trafford beyond the winter transfer window, let alone expect deployment in the important games to come during the run-in. In the pair’s selection on Wednesday Ferguson opted to cover his bases should a short-term injury crisis hit, rather than blood youngsters who may become United’s future.

More dangerous still, failure to offer younger players time in the first team this season may well lead to a talent drain. Much as Giuseppe Rossi and Gerard Pique left for greener pastures in previous years, so too could others if a path to the first team does not materialise. While Rossi and Pique have developed into stars of genuine class away from Old Trafford, Ferguson’s inability to find space in his team for the pair made the decision for both player and club seemingly straightforward. This backfired on club, not player.

Fast forward to the present day and Pogba’s frustration at a lack of progress in the past three years may yet play a part in the Frenchman’s stubborn refusal to sign a new contract with the club, even if the motivation for the currently stalled round of talks is primarily financial. When Ferguson claimed, earlier this summer, that he had not dipped into the market for fear of stalling Pogba’s development the Scot’s thoughts may have been more prescient than many first understood.

Yet did Ferguson, for example, gain more by ensuring Park Ji-Sung, Diouf and Gibson were a 90 minutes match sharper than he may have by handing Pogba his first start for the club?

Then there is Morrison, whose bright half against Palace was one of the very few positives to emerge from a disastrous result at Old Trafford. Historically the Scot gets very little of this balancing act wrong, but Ferguson will have learned little about Diouf, who will never make it at United, or Dimitar Berbatov, whose future is still the subject of speculation. Either of whom could have made way for Morrison’s first start in the first team.

Ferguson rejects this assertion, believing that the conveyor belt running from youth team, through reserves, to the Scot’s premier group, is looping at the optimal speed.

“The monitoring system here is good and there’s a lot of consistency with our Academy staff,” claimed Sir Alex in the new edition of Inside United.

“These are guys that have been here a long time and know what to look for. When somebody like Paul McGuinness comes to me and says: ‘He’s a first-team player’, then I know to keep a special eye on the player. From there, we’ll bring the boy into first-team training for a couple of sessions. That’s what we’re doing at the moment with Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison, Jesse Lingard, Zeki Fryers, Larnell Cole and Michael Keane.

“That allows me to see how they cope playing against seasoned professionals, it lets me judge their temperament. It allows me to get a far better picture of how they’re progressing. And, while this is going on, you hope they’re playing well for the Reserves and displaying the right attitude and enthusiasm. Players are never simply thrown into first-team action.”

In posing the question of whether it is more valuable to play youngsters, or maintain squad morale and fitness, there should be no assumption that younger players are ready for the first team. Morrison and Pogba, for example, are not. But, with the pair retained at Old Trafford this season, there is little more either is going to learn from reserve team football alone.

There is, of course, much to learn. While Morrison’s off-the-field temperament has frequently come under question, Pogba has been singled out for a more limited range of passing than is acceptable for a first team player at United.

“He is a big, strong player. His skill is brilliant, as are his physique and speed,” adds reserve team coach Paul Scholes.

“The one thing that he probably needs to tidy up a little bit is his passing, but once that comes right, he’s potentially a top-class player. He came on against Leeds [in the Carling Cup] and did really well.”

Meanwhile, Ferguson described Morrison as a “very talented boy”. Neither is likely to see the first team again this side of Christmas. In the meantime Ferguson has bigger fish to fry in the Premier and Champions Leagues, with a run of six winnable games coming up domestically, and a crucial tie with FC Basel in Europe.

But come January and the FA Cup third round Ferguson may well again need to choose between his squad’s fringe, and his talented youngsters.

Sir Fergie promises kids Palace outing

November 29, 2011 Tags: , Matches 253 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will offer Manchester United’s youngsters another opportunity to impress as his side takes on Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Wednesday. Kids Ravel Morrison, Paul Pogba and Ezekiel Fryers could all feature against the mid-table Championship club, as the Reds seek a place in the Carling Cup semi-final for the sixth time in 10 years.

Indeed, Ferguson, who has won the tournament four times during his reign at Old Trafford, is likely to name a side with 11 changes from that which drew with Newcastle United at the weekend. But the question on many fans lips is whether Morrison, Pogba et al will start against Palace at Old Trafford, with Ferguson having used his younger players sparingly in previous rounds of the tournament this season.

Yet with injuries biting into the Scot’s squad, and Palace set to field several changes, there is unlikely to be a better opportunity for United’s youngsters to star in the first team this season.

“There will be complete change, just the same as we had at Leeds and Aldershot,” said Ferguson.

“Ravel Morrison was in the squad for Wednesday’s game [against Benfica]. He’s a very, very talented boy, of course, and he’ll possibly be on the bench, at least, in midweek. But I’ve got other players needing a game like Mame Biram Diouf and Federico Macheda.

“All the younger players [will come in] – Zeki Fryers, the two Da Silvas [Rafael and Fabio] are possibles. Chris Smalling has come back and I may be able to play him on Wednesday. He’s still young and it’ll be a young squad against Palace. The only area where I’ve got problems is centre midfield. It’s possible I could play Pogba in there but we’ll wait and see. I’ve got enough players to choose from, that’s for sure.”

The prospect of Morrison and Pogba, in particular, featuring against Palace is an attractive one. However, neither started ties against Aldershot Town or Leeds United, with Ferguson preferring to offer game time to fringe squad players. The pair may well start on the bench, even counting injuries to Tom Cleverley and Anderson, with Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick certain to be rested. In to the side is likely to come Darron Gibson and Park Ji-Sung.

Manchester United v Crystal Palace, Carling Cup, Old Trafford, 30 November 2011, 7.45pmElsewhere, Rafael da Silva could make a long-awaited return to first team action after recovering from a shoulder injury, while Chris Smalling should start his first game in a month. Striker Federico Macheda will make his first start of the season.

“I think the League Cup has turned into quite a good tournament,” added Ferguson.

“Clubs like United are able to introduce young players and ones who have not been playing regularly in the first team and it’s been good to us over the years. We’ve won two finals at Wembley with young players, which is good going, and I think it’s become an important tournament for us in terms of getting the youngsters an introduction into winning.

“The reserves’ league is more of an extended youth league but we rectify that by putting players on loan. We’ve got quite a lot of players on loan this year, as we have every year, most of the 19 and 20-year-olds. The nucleus of the youth team last year have all had first-team experience this season. They’ve all been involved in the League Cup and travelled to European games with us. It’s valuable experience for the younger ones.”

Meanwhile, 10th placed Palace heads north with one eye on a key Championship game with Derby County on Friday night. Star winger Darren Ambrose is expected to be in the starting line-up, but Jonathan Williams is absent following a broken leg. Lee Hills and Alex Marrow are also out with injury.

Injuries and changes are unlikely to aid a Palace side that has managed just one win in the last five matches. Moreover, Dougie Freedman’s outfit has not scored a goal for 485 minutes. If that record isn’t foreboding enough for the south London team, then Palace’s record against United will bring little comfort – the club has not won at Old Trafford since 1989.

“I’ve told my players to go there and come away better players,” said 37-year-old Palace manager Freedman.

“This is an experience that you have got to soak up, you’ve got to enjoy it, you’ve got to work hard and be proud of your performance and what will be will be. That is exactly what I’ve told my players and that is exactly what I am going to do myself. You’ve got to make yourself and your family proud of your performance if you’re representing this club and that is what I ask of my players – to make themselves and their families proud of them playing there and coming away from it as a better player.”

The fixture recalls memories of the epic FA Cup final ties with Palace in 1990, not least the replay victory that ended Ferguson’s search for a first trophy with the club. The two matches were dramatic and, at times, stomach churning to watch for United supporters. Indeed, with United coming very close to blowing the first game, the past 20 years could have been very different if Palace had won the tie and Ferguson not secured silverware. Without victory, the pressure to dismiss the Scot that summer may have been unbearable.

No such pressure exists on Wednesday of course. Victory over Palace will simply increase United’s fixture calendar by two games in February – possibly against Manchester City or Liverpool, who won quarter final ties at Arsenal and Chelsea on Tuesday.

Match Facts
Manchester United versus Crystal Palace, Carling Cup, Old Trafford, Wednesday 30 November 2011, 7.45pm

Likely Line-ups
United (4-4-1-1): Lindegaard; Rafael, Fryers, Smalling, Fabio; Valencia, Gibson, Park, Diouf; Berbatov, Macheda. Subs from: De Gea, Amos, Jones, Fletcher, Carrick, Young, Hernandez, Evans, Keane, Rooney, Pogba, Morrison.

Palace (4-5-1): Price; Clyne, McCarthy, Ramage, Parr; O’Keefe, Wright
Zaha, Ambrose, Scannell; Easter. Subs from: Speroni, Moxey, Gardner, Jedinak, Zaha, Murray, C Martin, Garvan, Price, Dikgacoi, Iversen, Marrow, Cadogan, , Pedroza, Sekajja.

United: WWWDWD
Palace: WDDLLD

Referee: Chris Foy (St. Helens)
Assistants: Richard West, Bobby Pollock
Fourth Official: Neil Swarbrick

The Ravelation: Morrison shines light as United’s dawn beckons

October 26, 2011 Tags: , , Reads 37 comments

It is a year to the day since Ravel Morrison last pulled on a Manchester United first team shirt. Then Morrison impressed only fleetingly in a Carling Cup cameo appearance against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Old Trafford. The talent is undimmed in the past 12 months, even if question marks hanging over the teenager’s career have only multiplied. But Morrison’s return to Sir Alex Ferguson’s team offers hope for the player’s future, just as the Scot’s side took its first baby steps towards renaissance with a 3-0 victory over Aldershot Town on Tuesday night.

Morrison, all flicks and tricks during a 20 minute appearance at the Recreation Ground, has always been blessed with a gift in abundance. Floating between midfield and attack, with an awareness of space and movement belying his years, the 18-year-old impressed. There was the trademark easy-going flair – bountiful stand out arrogance, with just enough work-rate too – along with a pass exchanged here, a one-two instigated there.

The teenager’s second outing in the United first team came alongside fellow youngsters Ezekiel Fryers, Ben Amos, Michael Keane and Paul Pogba. The latter joined Morrison in central midfield during the closing minutes  and it does not take a crystal ball to foresee that proposition occurring regularly in years to come. Pogba’s classy distribution – long range and short – stood out. The Frenchman’s ability to also break up play offered some yin to Morrison’s considerable yang.

Morrison, meanwhile, will be grateful for the breakthrough after a difficult 12 months. The unease with which the player has drifted between potential stardom and seemingly more probable criminality has drawn more speculation about a United youngster than almost any in a generation. The genuine class on offer only adds to the intrigue. “Old Trafford’s Mario Ballotelli,” one commentator speculated this week. It is, of course, a gross over-simplification but one with some air of truth.

United’s decision to stand behind its errant youth star, despite repeated court appearances in recent months, is based more in hope than expectation. The hope that Morrison’s talent can be fulfilled at a higher level. He is, after all, the most naturally gifted Englishman since Wayne Rooney burst on to the scene almost a decade ago. The expectation, if truth be told, is that Morrison will find a way to waste all that talent.

Yet, the youngster’s appearance in Hampshire offered more than a ray of light amid the darkness following Sunday’s humiliation at Manchester City’s hands. The dancing feet and confidence of genuine class point towards a star in the making, even if it is one that needs careful attention. In hope there is redemption even if the noisy neighbours’ battering is not easily forgotten.

Moreover, United’s paucity of creative central midfield options – if truth be told any options – ensure the clamour for Morrison’s more permanent introduction is unlikely to die down. The player is not going to force his way into the United first team any time soon, no matter what the prevailing social media consensus, but hope is still a very powerful emotion.

If Morrison’s introduction offered some promise then United’s routine victory over the League Two outfit was only a small step in moving on from Sunday’s loss. Tiptoes rather than a great stride. Ferguson’s choice to deploy predominantly experience in United’s starting 11 said much not only for the “minutes on the pitch” that the Scot declare required but also of the need to not turn one heavy defeat into a full-blown crisis. Ferguson called for, and received, a professional performance. Little more, certainly no less.

Greater challenges are to come, both for Morrison and United. Morrison’s is to rid himself of the personal demons that have dogged a short career. If there is any collective malignant spirit it will surely be tested when United visits Everton at the weekend. Ferguson’s selection for the Goodison trip, with an easy Champions League tie to follow next week, should be close to full strength.

Yet, there are question marks about so many of the Scot’s squad that were not answered in the win over Aldershot. Is Rio Ferdinand’s number up; will Anderson be proffered yet another chance; is Jonny Evans now persona non grata. In Sir Alex’ admission that he has suffered no greater loss as a player or manager there is also a tacit understanding that he faces a huge decision at Everton. Should Ferdinand and Anderson suffer the expected fate – perhaps others too – it will be a sign that Ferguson has moved on.

Those questions are for the weekend. In the meantime United fans can bask in the afterglow, not of a minor victory over a lower league club, but the genuine light of a newly born star. The short appearance against Aldershot was not Morrison’s début but in a sense, coming more than a year after the teen’s first appearance for the senior side, it was a re-birth.

United and player both.

Reds begin recovery at lowly Aldershot

October 25, 2011 Tags: , Matches 86 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson will deploy a strong side against Aldershot Town in the Carling Cup fourth round on Tuesday night, as Manchester United takes its first steps towards recovery. With Ferguson’s team and supporters in a cloud since Manchester City’s 6-1 win at Old Trafford on Sunday, anything bar healthy victory over the lower division outfit is unthinkable.

While the renaissance begins in Hampshire, Ferguson also remains keen to use his full squad in the Carling Cup. It means the Scot is likely to field some major names alongside youngsters at the 7,000-capacity Recreation Ground. Michael Owen, Dimitar Berbatov and Antonio Valencia could all start against Dean Holdsworth’s League Two strugglers.

“At the moment, I’ve got a really strong squad,” Ferguson told MUTV.

“We took 23 players to Romania with us and left Rio [Ferdinand] behind because we weren’t planning to use him in that game. So, with a squad of 24 players, some of them have to have games. Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov must have games. It’ll be similar to what we did at Leeds, really. All [the youngsters involved at Elland Road] will be travelling with us.

“Young players emerge and take someone’s position. It’s happened time and time again at this club and I’ve experienced it over my 25 years. You see a young emerging star coming through the youth team, and then comes the Reserves and, before you know it, you say why don’t you put this boy in the first team. It’s down to temperament. That’s important, and ability, courage and determination. They’re all the factors we need for top players at United.”

In addition to Owen, Barbatov and Valencia, Ferguson could also deploy first-team regulars Fabio da Silva, Phil Jones and Park Ji-Sung against a team 81 places behind in the football league ladder. Captain Nemanja Vidic could play after missing Sunday’s defeat at Old Trafford.

Aldershot Town v Manchester United, Carling Cup, Recreation Ground, 7.45pm, 25 October 2011.Youngsters Will Keane, Ezikiel Fyers, Ravel Morrison and Paul Pogba are also included in Ferguson’s squad, while Tom Cleverley could make his very long-awaited return in central midfield after travelling south. Indeed, the latter pair could well start in what would be the French youngsters full United début.

Owen, who scored twice in the previous round away at Leeds United, says the match is essential to a host of fringe United players who have seen very little game time this season. The former-Liverpool striker is yet to start a Premier League game, while Berbatov has begun only one.

“It’s obviously going to be a massive game for Aldershot with Manchester United coming into town,” Owen told MUTV.

“I’m sure it’ll be a full house and we’re treating it as an important game as well. There’s players who weren’t involved against City, me being one of them, and a lot of the lads need games so it’ll be quite a strong Manchester United playing against them. It’s a competition we want to do well in. We’ve done quite well in the Carling Cup over the years and we want to progress and win a trophy. That’s the end game.”

Meanwhile, Aldershot manager Holdsworth says that the fixture is the biggest in the club’s history. Former Wimbledon striker Holdsworth runs the club on a shoestring, with the Hampshire-based outfit struggling in 15th place in League Two. In 1992 Aldershot became the first League club to fold since Acrington Stanly 30 years previously. Reforming that spring, Aldershot began the very long ascent up the football pyramid from Isthmian League Division Three, the ninth run on the ladder.

“On Tuesday night, we’ve probably got the biggest game in the club’s history. It could mean financial security for a long, long time”, said Holdsworth, who scored more than 260 goals in a decade-long professional career.

United and Aldershot have only met once, with the Reds winning 3-1 in September 1970. George Best, Brian Kidd and Denis Law scored United’s goals in the win, and while the Reds will not field two former European Players of the Year tonight, there is no doubt that a win is essential.

Match Facts
Aldershot Town v Manchester United, Carling Cup, Recreation Ground, 7.45pm, 25 October 2011.

Likely Line-ups
Aldershot (4-4-2): Warner;Herd, Straker, Jones, Rodman; Morris, Vincenti, Guttridge, Collins; Rankine, Hylton. Subs from: Brown, McGlashan, Pulis, Brown, Smith, Bubb, Panther, Young

United (4-4-2): Fabio, Jones, Vidic, Fryers; Valencia, Cleverley, Pogba, Park; Berbatov, Owen. Subs from: Lindegaard, Amos, de Gea, Evra, Carrick, Diouf, Giggs, Welbeck, Anderson, Fletcher, Young, Nani, W Keane, Morrison.

Aldershot: LLLLW
United: DDWDL

Referee: Lee Probert
Assistants: S Burt S Long
Fourth Official: S Attwell

Old rivals and new faces for Leeds tie

September 20, 2011 Tags: , Matches 107 comments

Manchester United visit Elland Road for the first time in eight years on Tuesday night, with Sir Alex Ferguson set to ring the changes for the Carling Cup third round tie with Leeds United. Yet, with so many young faces in the Scot’s first team it is Ferguson’s older hands that be asked to impress. And as well as local rivalry, the Reds have a minor right to wrong, with Leeds having emerged victorious from an FA Cup fixture at Old Trafford 18 months ago. A similar result is unthinkable for the 5,000 Reds expected at Elland Road.

In addition to familiar faces, such as Dimitar Berbatov, Park Ji-Sung and Michael Owen, Ferguson is expected to hand young Frenchman Paul Pogba a first start for United. The impressive midfielder led United’s Academy side to FA Youth Cup glory last season and the Scot expects to fast-track the talented teen into the first team picture this season.

Pogba missed United’s reserve win over Rochdale last week, and the Premier League fixture with Chelsea, but Ferguson expects to start the 18-year-old in the hostile Elland Road atmosphere. The début will vindicate Ferguson’s decision to retain Pogba at Old Trafford this season despite widespread interest from Championship clubs in a loan deal.

“He’s got a slight injury, it’s not too bad, though. So he wasn’t available for Sunday but he should be able to play on Tuesday and I intend to play him against Leeds United,” said Ferguson.

“It’s more difficult to loan a boy of 18 who’s come from France. We prefer to keep him with us until we find he’s mature enough to possibly go on loan. Maybe next year that could be an option but we’re definitely expecting him this season to stay with Manchester United.”

Leeds United versus Manchester United, Carling Cup, Ellend Road, 7.45pm, 20 September 2011.Ferguson has also included Tom Thorpe, Larnell Cole and Reese Brown from United’s reserve team in the squad to face Leeds but established first team player Michael Carrick believes the deep squad resources now at the Scot’s disposal mean that a more experienced side than many expected may turn out.

“The squad is so strong it has tended to be the younger lads that have played in recent weeks and they’ve done really well,” Carrick told MUTV.

“The team changed for Benfica but the experience that came in was something we have not seen for a while. We are well aware of what Leeds means. [It’s a big game] because of the fans and the rivalry over the years. I am sure the manager will pick a strong team. I’m guessing it will be a full house. It will be a nice hot atmosphere. It‘s not like there is a team for this or a team for that: whoever comes in isn’t going to weaken the team in any way. They just offer something different. It is a great option for the manager to have.

“Paul [Pogba] is a huge talent. He has trained with us a number of times, so we have seen quite a lot of him and he looks very promising. If he goes about things in the right way and gets a little bit of luck at the right time, he is going to have a bright future.”

Of those younger players who feature tonight veteran Ryan Giggs says it is not the talent but the attitude that will dictate whether the kids become United legends or a footnote in history. Indeed, under Ferguson’s stewardship players with, arguably, limited natural talent but huge desire have played hundreds of games for the club. For Thorpe, Brown, Pogba and Keane tonight is perhaps the first test of many to come.

“There are young players coming through at United but this is an important part of their career,” says the Welsh legend, now in his 21st season as a pro with United.

“When you look at the lads who came through in my age group, then those who followed – Wes Brown and John O’Shea, for instance – when they got their chance, they took it. Once you hit 17, 18 and 19, that is what you have to do. It doesn’t matter whether it is if you get a chance to train with the first team, or in a match as a substitute, you need to make an impact. You need to force the manager not leave you out of the next game. The majority have the quality. That is not really in doubt. The question is, do they have the desire and appetite to take it up a step more?”

There is little more incentive than an away fixture at Leeds, with whom the rivalry burns strong despite the Whites’ seven-year exile from the Premier League. For those youngsters blooded at Elland Road an intense atmosphere awaits, with Leeds supporters still celebrating the club’s FA Cup victory over United in January 2010. It is a rivalry as intense as any in the country.

Meanwhile, Leeds manager Simon Grayson is without defender Patrick Kisnorbo, who serves a one-match ban following his sending off against Bristol City. Grayson faces a major dilemma over his team selection, with a top-of-the-table clash against Brighton and Hove Albion in the Championship on Friday.

However, United’s outstanding recent record in the Carling Cup – winners in 2006, 2009 and 2010 – and strong starting line-up ensures the Reds start strong favourites to win. Yet, there is also a lesson in history: Coventry City became the last club from outside the top flight to knock United out of the Carling Cup in November 2007. Few anticipate a similar result Tuesday night.

Match Facts
Leeds United versus Manchester United, Carling Cup, Ellend Road, 7.45pm, 20 September 2011.

Likely Line-ups
Leeds (4-4-2): Lonergan; Connolly, White, O’Dea, Lees; Howson, Clayton, Nunez, Snodgrass; Keogh, McCormack. Subs from:
Rachubka, Bromby, Brown, Becchio, Forssell, Sam, Taylor, Bruce, O’Brien.

United (4-4-2): Lindegaard; Brown, Evans, Jones, Fabio; Valencia, Fletcher, Pogba, Park; Owen, Berbatov. Subs from: de Gea, Amos, Smalling, Ferdinand, Jones, Giggs, Evans, Diouf, Nani, Carrick, Anderson, Young, Rooney, Hernandez, Macheda, Thorpe, Fryers, Cole, Keane.

Leeds: DWLWW
United: WWWDW

Referee: Mike Jones (Chester)

Sobering loss poses serious questions

December 2, 2010 Tags: , , Reads 37 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson promised faith in youth this season, although he may have cause to rethink the assertion after his team’s humiliation in East London on Tuesday. That Manchester United’s 29 match unbeaten run came to an end in such empathic fashion so soon after scoring seven at the weekend was surprise enough

That the Reds surrendered so meekly all the more shocking. But while Ferguson’s younger players failed to perform, arguably it was his experienced pros that truly let him down.

True, West Ham United exposed all of Bébé’s many weaknesses and Gabriel Obertan often looked lost too, while Chris Smalling was often uncomfortable and Jonny Evans – not for the first time – physically dominated. Fabio da Silva demonstrated his inexperience too.

Yet United, with Anderson, Darren Fletcher and Ryan Giggs deployed in central midfield, hardly lacked for big match nous. The addition of John O’Shea and Tomasz Kuzsazck offered yet more experience to a side whose average age was nearly 25. Not 20.

Sir Alex Ferguson brushed off the defeat, blaming individual mistakes and ‘soft’ goals, which is no surprise. He cannot but support younger players who have yet to build a reputation or the confidence that goes with it. But the nature of United’s drubbing has sparked a debate not only about the quality of the club’s youngsters but the squad’s strength-in-depth too.

“I didn’t expect that, that’s for sure. If you analyse it the goals we gave away were absolutely too soft,” Ferguson told MUTV.

“We had one or two half chances and Gabriel Obertan had a shot saved by the goalkeeper (Robert Green) which then hit the post.

“The goals killed it. You can’t just give goals away at this level. That first goal was a break for them. We were in control in the early part, played some good football. But goals change games.

“The thing that sparked it was the goal that was disallowed because it got the crowd up. It spurred them on.”

Not that Ferguson is likely to criticise his youngster’s potential having very publicly placed faith in the group before the season’s start. Indeed, there’s some sympathy with Ferguson’s view in the match statistics, which saw United dominate possession – 55 per cent – and create as many chances as the hosts.

Moreover, arguably the worst performers were United’s senior men, with O’Shea, Giggs and Fletcher performing poorly. Anderson, after dominating midfield against Blackburn last weekend, seemed less than interested in the first period; presumably Ferguson’s hairdryer inspired a less insipid response after the break.

Kuzsazck simply confirmed that his exit sooner rather than later is to be welcomed not feared. Not least by Smalling, who has looked so assured in previous outings, but turned into a nervous wreck in the freezing cold on Tuesday night.

Yet, one cannot but be struck by Bébé’s failure on the right-wing. After scoring in the previous round, and netting a stunning double for the reserves recently, much was hoped – if not expected – of the £8 million Portuguese. Instead the winger’s commitment to running down blind allies and delivering without any quality was total.

Meanwhile, Obertan’s quality with the ball at his feet is potentially outstanding but his understanding of the game rudimentary at best. Even Hernandez had one of his least effective games in a Red shirt, demonstrating that without true support he is unable to dictate the flow of United’s attacks.

For all the defender’s attacking endeavors, Fabio’s failure was summed up in the opening period when he let a simple pass roll under his foot and across the touchline. Not a good day at the office.

But if one player’s ignominious failure at the Boleyn Ground was a case study for the team, then Evans takes it. The Ulsterman’s embarrassment by Carlton Cole for a second time this season mercifully ended in the second period with his substitution. That United fans had already sung for Wes Brown surely not a coincidence.

Of course, time rather than conjecture is the ultimate judge of whether United’s squad and younger players are up to the job. Humiliation in East London can do little to the players’ confidence though. Indeed, Obertan, Bébé and Fabio will now see little action, save for the upcoming dead rubber against Valencia at Old Trafford, before the season’s end.

Unless Ferguson risks deploying them in the FA Cup third round fixture against Liverpool. After Leeds United at the same stage last season, surely that’s a risk the Scot is unwilling to take.


Kids face Hammers test

November 30, 2010 Tags: , Matches 167 comments

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.

Ryan Giggs, also short of minutes this season, could feature from the bench as the Welsh legend, 37 yesterday, regains fitness.

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

Reds edge past Wolves to reach Carling quarters

October 26, 2010 Tags: , Matches 27 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson’s reserves scraped past Wolverhampton Wanderers to reach the Carling Cup quarter-final. Javier Hernández scored a 90th minute winner as United overcame the spirited Midlanders for the second season in a row, with Park Ji-Sung and full-debutant Bébé earlier twice giving United the lead at Old Trafford.

The second period was as entertaining as the first dull, as United edged the best of five goals scored after the break. Ferguson’s side twice took the lead only for the visitors to peg the home side back, with the Reds once again careless at the back.

It almost cost United a place in the next round but with plenty of youngsters featuring Ferguson will feel positive about the Reds’ work on the night.

“It was a very open game in the second half and both teams played really well. It was a really good cup tie in the second half,” said Ferguson, who also praised United’s match-winner Hernández.

“We tend to build up heroes very quickly here but the boy is justifying the praise he’s getting at the moment.

“He’s first in and last out at training and his goal scoring is impressive.

“His touch and control of the ball is improving and his vision is improving too. That’s because the training is intense and we make sure players do improve.”

Ferguson offered a number of younger players the chance to impress, with Gabriel Obertan, Bébé and Federico Macheda spearheading United’s youthful attack. In goal 20-year-old Ben Amos made only his second start for the firs team ahead of the more experienced Tomasz Kuszczak.

Yet, the morgue-like atmosphere at Old Trafford was matched by a flat opening half, with only Macheda’s curling shot forcing a save from Wayne Hennessey in the visitors’ goal.

Indeed, Ferguson must have been disappointed with the penetration and urgency of his team save for Bébé on United’s right-flank. The £7.4 million forward showed glimpses of the pace and skill that persuaded United to spend lavishly on a player Ferguson has not previously seen in action.

But precious little else provided entertainment for the sparse – officially announced – 46,083 Old Trafford crowd. In truth far fewer appeared to turn up, with East second tier and North third completely shut on the night.

Ferguson’s side started the second period much as it finished the first, although Carrick’s long-range effort and Macheda’s curling shot at least threatened the visitors’ goal.

Park, largely disappointing during the first half, should have scored but shot straight at Hennessey when through on goal.

Bébé again looked the most progressive of United’s attacking quartet, forcing the free-kick from which Darron Gibson lashed a 30-yard effort straight at Hennessey.

Indeed, it was the Portuguese who forced the opening goal, beating Steven Mouyokolo for pace on the right before the winger’s angled shot deflected up and over Hennessey and just over the line.

If that should have been the catalyst for Ferguson’s young side to win the match, then inexperience told as Wolves’ corner was headed home by George Elokobi minutes later, with Amos failing to deal with the centre.

United almost regained the lead as Bébé centred for Macheda, who shot high on the half volley. The Italian wasted the opportunity as chances flowed in a far more entertaining second period.

United finally reclaimed the lead as Park exchanges passes with Macheda and stroked home from 15 yards. It was a rare moment of end-product from the South Korean in an otherwise horrendous season for the 29-year-old midfielder.

But United has made a habit of losing leads this season and Darron Gibson dwelt on the bal in his own half, enabling Ebankes-Blake to work an opening for right-back Kevin Foley to score through Jonny Evans legs and beyond Amos.

Twice Obertan could have given United a decisive lead with minutes to go, first failing to convert substitute Hernández’ cross and then firing over when a pass might have been the better option.

Then the winner, with Hernández starting and wonderfully finishing a flowing United move. The Mexican turned from right to left and finished past Hennessey in the final minute.

Cruel on Wolves perhaps but a mark of quality from the young Mexican.

“It was a good game all round. We did really well considering the players we played. Some of them hadn’t played in a while,” added Wes Brown.

“We thought we’d won it when we got the second goal with five or six minutes to go. Chichi got us the goal in the end. We want to win this competition for a third time.

“There were a lot of young players there and they’ve got a lot to prove for the future.”

One of those players, Hernández, has become an instant Old Trafford hero.

Match Facts

United – 4411 – Amos; Brown, Smalling, Evans, Fabio (Neville 74); Bebe (Hernández 81), Carrick, Gibson, Park (Morrison 90+5); Obertan; Macheda.

Wolves – 442 – Hennessey; Elokobi, Berra, Mancienne, Mouyokolo, Foley; Hunt, Jones, Jarvis (Doyle 85); Ebanks-Blake (Bent 80), Fletcher.

Attendance – 46,083
Man of the Match – Bébé

Possession: United 53% – 47% Wolves
Attempts: 17 – 15
On target: 10 – 7
Corners: 4 – 6
Fouls: 12 – 6