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.”
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.
Leeds United versus Manchester United, Carling Cup, Ellend Road, 7.45pm, 20 September 2011.
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.
Referee: Mike Jones (Chester)