In years gone by the build up to the FA Cup final would centre on the teams involved. The occasion and the prize on offer mean far more than the future of any manager. But, then, this hasn’t been any old season. Manchester United heads into the FA Cup final against Crystal Palace looking for the club’s first piece of major silverware since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. Three long years. While reaching the cup final is to be celebrated, there will be relief painted across United supporters’ faces come full-time on Saturday. The curtain will surely come down on Louis van Gaal’s era at Old Trafford.
Seldom has a Manchester United victory left supporters as dismayed than they are now. United’s 1-0 win over Aston Villa was another low in Louis van Gaal’s managerial reign, despite the three points keeping the Reds’ top four hopes alive. United lumbered to an unconvincing victory against one of the worst sides the Premier League has ever seen. The crowd at Old Trafford was as flat as the style of play, with fans increasingly frustrated with Van Gaal’s philosophy. Football is a game of entertainment, and the Premier League is the home of end-to-end attacking football. In truth, United’s fans are simply bored.
Is this the most boring Manchester United side in recent memory? Certainly, it is one in which Paul Scholes believes he could not thrive. The former Red kicked off a war-of-words with manager Louis van Gaal this week, saying that he “would not enjoy” playing for the Dutchman. It is a sentiment with which many United supporters agree and frustration with the team’s style is audibly building at Old Trafford.
“There’s a lack of creativity and risk,” added Scholes. “It’s a team now you wouldn’t want to play against because they’re tightly organised, but it seems he doesn’t want players to beat men and it’s probably not a team I’d have enjoyed playing in.”
United, with a strong emphasis on ball retention, ranks first for possession this season, but 18th for total number of shots. Van Gaal’s requirement to retain the ball means that his side has played more backwards passes than any other team in the Premier League, and ranks second in sidewards passing. Indeed, no other team makes more passes per shot or chances created than United.
“The hardest thing to coach is scoring goals and creativity,” adds Scholes. “I played with some brilliant centre forwards and I don’t think they could play in this team – the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham. [United] don’t get crosses into the box or midfielders looking for runs.”
Van Gaal, as has become typical of his increasingly defensive manner, reacted strongly to Scholes’ comments. The former midfielder “doesn’t have the responsibility so he can say everything,” said Van Gaal, with the Dutchman accusing Scholes of speaking out for personal and financial gain.
“Why is he saying something? Because of the benefit of the club or for the benefit for him? I’m not agreeing with his opinion but I don’t want to defend myself. He is a legend and he has a lot of resonance I have heard. When you are a legend, you have to speak with the manager or his friend, Ryan Giggs, or Ed Woodward but not this way, because he will be paid by the BBC or Sky. He is not a responsible man.”
Scholes’ comments came in the wake of United’s Capital One Cup defeat to Middlesbrough at Old Trafford on Wednesday. United’s penalty shoot-out loss means that, realistically, Van Gaal’s side is chasing FA Cup glory this season as the best hope of ending a two-year run without a trophy. The Reds could yet put in a title challenge, although a typical price of 6/1 seems reasonable in a race most pundits expect Manchester City to win. In Europe, United’s limitations have already been exposed.
Striker Wayne Rooney again came under fire for another ineffective performance on Wednesday. The 30-year-old has scored eight goals in 16 games this season, although few against the nation’s top sides. That he missed a spot-kick in the penalty shoot-out this week an all-too-predictable outcome.
Rooney has scored twice in the Premier League, but has come under widespread fire for performances that lack the verve of old. Indeed, in shifting Anthony Martial to the left-wing, Van Gaal’s determination to crowbar his captain into the side is having a detrimental effect on United’s performances – and results. Yet, Van Gaal blames Rooney’s troubles not on poor form, or the rapid physical decline many suspect, but on the player’s determination. Few buy the excuse.
“I was manager of Bayern, and there the striker was Mario Gomez, and he touched the ball nine times as an average in a game,” Van Gaal said.
“The highest was 14 balls but he scored every game and I don’t think that our strikers touch the ball less. It’s how the balls are coming to him, how he decides, how quick he is in dealing with the situation, it’s much more complicated than everyone is thinking. Players are human beings and they want to score goals but they maybe want it too much. You have to cope with that pressure.”
Meanwhile, this weekend’s opponents Crystal Palace, also lost in the Capital One Cup – 5-1 at the Etihad – to complete three defeats in succession. Palace began the season in fine form, pushing for a place in the top four, but Alan Pardew’s side has now lost four of its last six games. And if United has problems in attack, then so does Palace, with none of the Eagles’ strikers scoring in the Premier League this season.
It points to a game where shape and tactics, and not attacking flair, are likely to come to the fore, despite Palace’s attacking quartet of Jason Puncheon, Dwight Gayle, Bakary Sako and Wilfried Zaha possessing plenty of threat on paper.
“United’s long spells of possession could threaten to drive the atmosphere into a lull, but we need to keep the fans singing along,” said Pardew this week. “United aren’t getting as many shots off as they normally do, but defensively they’re always in a good shape. I expect it to be a fairly cagey game.”
Same as it ever was, it seems.
Team news and line-ups
Van Gaal is without attacking duo Memphis Depay and James Wilson after both suffered injuries against Boro in the cup. Antonio Valencia and Paddy McNair are also out, with Luke Shaw a long-term absentee. With Depay injured Ashley Young could come back into the side and Van Gaal could yet move Martial to the striking role in which the young Frenchman has excelled this season. Ander Herrera will miss out if Rooney drops into a deeper role.
“Willo was injured but also Memphis Depay was injured,” van Gaal confirmed on Friday. “It was a very bad game afterwards because we lost on penalties and also we lost two players.”
The home side could be without key midfielder Yohan Cabaye. The French international missed the midweek defeat at City because of injury. Pape Souare and Joel Ward also miss out, but Puncheon could play at number 10 after recovering from illness. Marouane Chamakh and Connor Wickham remain injured.
Palace subs from: Speroni, Mariappa, Delaney, Jedinak, Bamford, Mutch, Lee, Bolasie, Campbell
United subs from: Romero, Blind, Pereira, Carrick, Fellaini, Herrera, Lingard
Referee: Mike Jones
Assistants: M Mullarkey, A Nunn
Fourth Official: J Moss
Palace 1-2 United
It is not often that Manchester United loses four games in succession. Not, indeed, since 1979 – a record even David Moyes failed to break during a calamitous 10 months at Old Trafford. Yet, Louis van Gaal’s side travels to south London on Saturday with Dave Sexton’s mark in its sight after defeats to Chelsea, Everton and West Bromwich Albion over the past four weeks. With Champions League qualification at stake United has little room for further points dropped, let alone an unwelcome record matched.
Van Gaal insists that he is “not that concerned” by United’s poor run of results. One in which his team has failed to score in any of the past three games. In each a similar pattern has merged, with United hogging possession, but squandering chances against teams prepared to sit deep and soak up the Reds’ largely anaemic attack. In games against Everton and Chelsea Van Gaal’s side failed to create any real chances of note, with the opposition hitting smartly on the break. Where United did create some 26 opportunities against West Brom, the Dutchman’s forwards failed to hit the target with more than half of those opportunities.
The real concern, beyond results alone, is the apparent lack of an alternate plan, bar the now pastiche deployment of Marouane Fellaini in an attacking role. Against the Baggies at Old Trafford last weekend home supporters enjoyed the rare sight of strikers Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie in midfield, with the giant Belgian impotent up front. Chaos, not of the productive kind, ensued.
Indeed, Van Gaal’s regression over the past three games to the bizarre tactics and baffling formations of old plays in stark contrast to a run of six victories where the Dutchman fielded a largely unchanged side in a consistent 4-3-3 formation. It was a system apparently fundamentally broken by Michael Carrick’s untimely injury.
The Englishman will again be absent on Saturday tea time. And for United’s final two Premier League matches against Arsenal and then Hull City. It would be a pivotal loss, but for Liverpool’s visit to Stamford Bridge this weekend. Anything but a Scouse victory is likely to end the Champions League qualification race for good.
“Carrick is not available, it was more heavy than we thought,” said van Gaal on Friday. “We tried everything but now we have to think about next season. He shall not play anymore this season, it’s better now to focus for him on next season and being fit to start.
“It’s clear that he’s very important but that’s also because we have only one right-sided holding midfielder. That’s what I am saying already in the whole of the season, that our selection is not balanced, and I want to restore that in the next transfer period. Life is not ending at 34, but for a professional football player, it’s close. That’s why I have to handle again in that position.”
United’s dip into the transfer market on Thursday secured the exciting Dutch forward Memphis Depay in a £25 million deal. Van Gaal’s search for Carrick’s replacement continues.
Elsewhere both Jonny Evans and Luke Shaw are available on Saturday, although the Northern Irishman’s lack of “match rhythm” means a place on the bench is more likely. Marcos Rojo is back in training, although unlikely to feature, while James Wilson has recovered from a virus that has swept the United dressing room this week.
Shaw’s return could mean a place in central midfield for Daley Blind, with Ander Herrera moving forward, although Van Persie is pushing to keep his place in the United side despite a disappointing performance against West Brom last weekend. If the Dutch striker plays, Herrera will again take up Carrick’s role, with Rooney deployed in central midfield. It is a role in which the England striker has rarely impressed this season.
Meanwhile, Palace manager Alan Pardew is without strikers Fraizer Campbell and Marouane Chamakh, although he boasts an otherwise largely fit squad. The Londoners have also lost three games on the spin since securing Premier League football next season. Still, whatever Palace’s short-term form, Pardew’s side has already beaten Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham at Selhurst Park this season. Palace also enjoyed a strong performance in a 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford earlier this season, although United has not lost in south London since 1991.
With a speedy attacking trio of Wilfried Zaha, Yannick Bolasie and Jason Puncheon, Pardew’s side is well set up to soak up United’s pressure and hit the Reds on the break though. Zaha in particular is likely to relish putting one over his former side, with the youngster making just four appearances after a £15 million move north.
“His time at United was a period in his career when things didn’t work out, and that happens for players, coaches and managers,” said Pardew. “What he’s done [here] is approach it all in the right way. He’s been focused on the job.
“He’s learned you have to do certain things defensively in the Premier League without taking away from your offensive ability. He never really had an opportunity to learn that at United because he just didn’t play enough. That’s no fault of Man United’s: it’s the standards they have. He perhaps wasn’t quite ready. But he is a player we hope will grow here and will make an impact tomorrow. I’m sure he’ll be motivated to do that.”
United’s players should be motivated too after three defeats on the bounce. Not least because Van Gaal’s criticism of his team’s attitude in recent games still rings loud.
“It’s a difficult moment with three losses,” admitted goalkeeper David De Gea this week. It will be more troubling still should United add a fourth to that run.
Palace (4-2-3-1): Speroni; Ward, Dann, Delaney, Souré;McArthur, Ledley; Zaha, Puncheon, Bolasie; Murray
United (4-1-4-1): De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Shaw; Herrera; Mata, Rooney, Fellaini, Young; Van Persie
Palace: Hennessey, Kettings, Kelly, Mariappa, Hangeland, Jedinak, Mutch, Lee, Guediora, Thomas, Boateng, Sanogo, Gayle
United: Valdes, McNair, Evans, Blackett, Januzaj, Perreira, Blind, Di Maria, Wilson, Falcao
Palace 7 – Draw 9 – United 29
Referee: Michael Oliver
Assistants: S Bennett, M McDonough
Fourth Official: K Friend
Palace 1-1 United
£1 bet club
Wilfried Zaha to score first @ 11/1
Running total: £7.50 up!
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It is a strange period for Manchester United. Three disappointing results in succession against Stoke City, Fulham and then Arsenal were followed by the sojourn to Dubai for warm weather training – and no little activity with local sponsors. Whether the break drives better results in the coming weeks will be the only relevant proof of United’s strategy. Yet, victory for United over Crystal Palace in south London this weekend is anything but guaranteed, with Tony Pulis’ side experiencing an impressive revival in recent weeks.
Whatever the impression gained after United’s antics in Dubai this week, David Moyes desperately needs victory to stabilise a ship that has been badly listing in recent months. Now 11 points adrift of Liverpool in the Premier League, United will almost certainly miss out on the Champions League next season. Whether the Reds qualify for Europe at all is in the balance, with Moyes’ side required to finish between fifth and seventh depending on who wins domestic cup competitions.
Still, Moyes believes United returned from the Middle East with renewed spirit in the camp and is ready for matches first against Palace at Selhurst Park and then Olympiakos in Athens over the next 72 hours. It is a hugely decisive period in United’s campaign.
“It was great that we had some time together with the players – the first time I’ve really had the chance to have a few days with them,” said Moyes.
“We trained and had some relaxation time as well, so it was good. You hope you get some benefit from it. We’d have rather been in the FA Cup, let me tell you that more than anything, but we weren’t, so the next thing we had to do is get them ready for the 12 remaining games.”
Moyes has bemoaned United’s luck this season, while frequently apportioning blame for poor results on referees. The Scot seemingly suggested that the FA had achieved what it “wanted” with United slipping down the league table this season. There is little room for further excuse with a fresh, largely injury free squad entering the season’s denouement.
Indeed, Moyes will take a strong squad to London, including striker Wayne Rooney who this week signed a five and half year contract worth £85 million not including bonuses. It is reward for a stronger campaign over the past eight months than in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season as United manager. Quite whether the 28-year-old Scouser has done enough to earn more than £300,000 per week is a moot question.
“I remember when he came to see me I said to him: ‘If you ask me what’s missing – I think you’ve gone a bit soft’,” said Moyes on Friday.
“I thought he hadn’t been the hard-working, aggressive player he was. But now in games people are saying: ‘Look at the effort he’s putting in.’ It’s his work-rate, not just for himself but for the team. He’s become an all-round team player who is also a technically gifted footballer.
“The most important thing for Wayne was to show everyone what he really was and I think deep down he knows he didn’t play as well as he could have done at times. I needed to try to get him back to that level. His training was first-class, he came back in great shape, you could really see the hunger back in his eyes again.”
Moyes welcomes back Belgian midfielder Marouanne Fellaini, who has missed much of the season with wrist and groin injuries. The former Everton player could start in south London with Moyes set to rotate his players ahead of two key games in the coming days. Moyes could also start Adnan Januzaj for the first time since early January, but Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Nani remain on the sidelines with injury.
Meanwhile, Pulis can take pride from Palace’s renaissance since the 58-year-old Englishman took over at Selhurst Park in late November. The Londoners’ seven victories under Pulis have taken a side seemingly destined for relegation to 15th place – two points above the drop zone.
Palace’s sole injury concern is Jerome Thomas, who has a back problem, although striker Glenn Murray is not thought ready to start after recovering from a long-term knee problem.
Often the subject of media scruitinity of his teams’ tactics, Pulis offered words of support for fellow manager Moyes this week. The minority of United supporters expressing frustration with Moyes’ performance results this season has seemingly grown by the week.
“David’s had a tough start at Manchester United,” said Pulis, who left Stoke City last summer.
“They’ve got some outstanding players and I’ve watched the last three games on tapes that they’ve played, and the last three games they could have won the games comfortably.
“Unfortunately with Dave they haven’t had the breaks, so they’ve not been able to pick up momentum. In time David will turn it to how he wants it. You’ve got to give him time. You’ve got to give him the opportunity to do it, just like they gave Sir Alex, when Sir Alex first came into the job. They gave him the opportunity to turn the club round.
“It’s a proper football club, and the people behind the scenes will give David that time irrespective I think of what the press and the media will say. He couldn’t be at a better club with better people because they were in this position before.”
It is an argument with which few United supporters will agree. With the club on its knees and close to financial ruin, Ferguson built an empire from which he and the ruling Glazer family have hugely profited.
Moyes, by contrast, has not only seen more than 21 per cent erased from United’s stock price since joining the club in the summer, but led the team to 10 defeats in all competitions. Another on Saturday can only intensify the pressure on the Scot.
A little less than 19 years since Eric Cantona launched a flying attack on a Palace fan, it is a measure of United’s fall from grace that few supporters can confidently predict a positive result in south London this time around.
Crystal Palace v Manchester United, Premier League, Selhurst Park, 5.30pm, 22 February 2014
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Mata, Carrick, Fellaini, Januzaj; Rooney; van Persie
Palace (4-2-3-1): Speroni; Ward, Dann, Delaney, Ledly; Jedinak, Dikgacoi; Puncheon, Ince, Bolasie; Chamakh
Palace: Hennessey, Gabbidon, Moxey, Mariappa, McCarthy, Parr, Murray, Thomas, O’Keefe, Bannan, Williams, Gayle, Jerome, Wilbraham
United: Lindegaard, Giggs, Hernández, Büttner, Ferdinand, Fletcher, Valencia, Kagawa, Cleverley, Welbeck
Palace 7 Draw 9 United 27
Referee: Michael Oliver
Assistants: S Burt, A Garratt
Fourth Official: K Friend
It has been the longest of international breaks, not least because David Moyes’ players return to domestic football having lost, somewhat ignominiously, to Liverpool a fortnight ago. With many of Manchester United’s squad involved in World Cup qualifiers, Moyes’ players have gathered for only a few days ahead of the weekend’s match with Crystal Palace, but there can be little doubt that the Scot is under pressure to deliver a result. After all Palace, newly promoted under Ian Holloway’s flambouyant stewardship, is only a point behind the Reds.
Still, Moyes will be able to call on £27.5 million signing Marouanne Fellaini for the Eagles’ visit, even if Wayne Rooney is likely to be sidelined with a nasty cut to his forehead. The Belgian could start alongside Michael Carrick in central midfield as Moyes attempts to bolster an area of United’s team that failed so conspicuously at Anfield.
Not that Moyes will always deploy his new recruit in midfield; the player was often used in more forward roles last season, scoring 11 times in the Premier League from a position just off Everton’s principle striker. Evidence, some suggest, that Moyes is likely to instill a more direct style of play at Old Trafford in the coming months.
The jury remains out on that theory for the moment although, with a packed schedule in the coming weeks, Fellaini will have little time to bed into whatever role Moyes chooses. The 25-year-old Belgian must adapt quickly if he is to repay some of United’s lavish investment in matches with Palace, Bayer Levekusen, Manchester City and Liverpool before September is out.
“He can play different positions, score goals and is effective in different areas of the field. So I’m hoping that if he can continue to improve we could have a really top player on our hands.
“He was someone who we pencilled in for a position here at Manchester United right from the start. We felt we could do with adding numbers. We had to try and get another central midfield player. But with Marouane being able to play a bit further on as well, it can give us different alternatives if required.
“He’s someone who can play in several roles. We got a lot of games coming up, a busy schedule, and I want to be able to play in different ways in different games so he helps me to do that.”
Meanwhile, Moyes has few injury concerns, Rooney and Phil Jones aside, although all eyes will be on former Palace winger Wilfried Zaha, who has featured little so far this season, and Shinji Kagawa, who has seen just seven minutes’ action. The Japanese international was widely misquoted as being upset with Moyes’ management this week even though the Scot left Kagawa out of his matchday squad at Anfield entirely.
Rooney will again be absent though, having missed United’s 1-0 defeat in Liverpool and two England matches over the past fortnight. The player’s severely gashed head required 12 stitches and the Scouser is unlikely to feature until the risk of the wound reopening has completely dissipated.
“He’s in great physical shape but obviously he’s got the cut right in the middle of his forehead which could split where the skin is very thin,” said Moyes.
“He’s had the stitches out and it’s knitted well. We’ve just got to see where the level of risk is with his head injury.”
Zaha, meanwhile, is unlikely to feature against his old team, with Moyes in no mood to make a sentimental selection for the Saturday lunchtime kick-off.
“He’s been quite bright over the few days since he’s been back. He got a couple of games for the England Under-21s and is one of the most promising players on the way up. The fact that it’s his old club in this game won’t change my views in any way but he’s someone who we hope he can continue to develop and, when we think he’s ready, we’ll get him towards the team.”
Moyes will make a late call on Jones’ fitness, who will play at right-back should he recover from an ankle injury sustained against Liverpool. Jones limped out of the Reds’ defeat after 37 minutes and could be replaced by Antonio Valencia or Chris Smalling if the youngster fails to regain fitness.
Whatever the final line-up United can do little worse than the club’s last meeting with Palace – a 2-1 Carling Cup victory for the south Londoners at Old Trafford in November 2011. Darren Ambrose struck from long range and winger Glenn Murray scored in extra time to seal Palace’s unlikely win.
The much-changed outfit signed 15 players over the summer, although not all have found a happy home at Selhurst Park. New signings Florian Marange and Owen Garvan were left out of Holloway’s 25-man Premier League squad altogether amid increasingly acrimonious fall-out.
The Frenchman claimed that he was “disgusted” with the decision after joining from Bordeaux just weeks ago. “We needed pace,” said Holloway, “he hasn’t got it.”
Rant wonders whether Holloway is a fully paid-up subscriber to the Bébé school of football scouting.
Still, Holloway will call on former Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh, who joined Palace on a one-year deal in the summer. The Moroccan scored in Palace’s defeat at Stoke City earlier this season, although the Eagles come off a fine 3-1 victory at Sunderland two week’s ago. That victory elevated Palace to 14th in the nascent Premier League table.
“They’ve brought in a lot of new players in the window and Ian Holloway will be keen to get them integrated quickly. They’re coming off the back of a good result last time as well,” added Moyes on Friday.
Still, the Scot should count on his first home win of the season following United’s disappointing draw with Chelsea. And with it a huge sense of relief after a tedious fortnight away from the domestic game.
Manchester United v Crystal Palace, Premier League, Old Trafford, 12.45pm 14 September 2013
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Valencia, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Fellaini, Young; Welbeck; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Buttner, F da Silva, Smalling, Giggs, Cleverley, Anderson, Zaha, Kagawa, Hernández, Rooney
Palace (4-4-1-1): Speroni; Ward, Gabbidon, Delaney, Moxey; Puncheon, Dikgacoi, Jedinak, Campana; Gayle; Chamakh. Subs from: Alexander, Ramage, O’Keefe, Jo Williams, Phillips, Dobbie, Wilbraham, Jerome, Mariappa, Bannan, Kebe, Grandin.
United 26 – Draw 9 – Palace 7
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Assistants: A Halliday, D England
Fourth Official: C Foy
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.
Elsewhere, 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.
Manchester United versus Crystal Palace, Carling Cup, Old Trafford, Wednesday 30 November 2011, 7.45pm
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.
Referee: Chris Foy (St. Helens)
Assistants: Richard West, Bobby Pollock
Fourth Official: Neil Swarbrick