Manchester United resumes its fierce rivalry with Leeds United on Tuesday night in an eagerly anticipated Carling Cup third round clash. With Leeds decline in recent years, these clashes are no longer common occurrences on the calendar and so fans, and players alike, will relish the chance to lock horns again. The Reds will be looking to avenge a 1-0 loss they suffered at the hands of their bitter rivals in an FA Cup third round tie in January 2010. A hostile atmosphere will await at Elland Road with Leeds fans sure to remind Ferguson and his men of that famous win.
United will go in to the game in high spirits and full of confidence after having their best ever start to a season under Sir Alex Ferguson. Five wins on the bounce in the Premier League and a credible draw away at Benfica in the Champions League has seen the Reds impress all observers with their attacking intent and fluid play. It would be easy to be complacent ahead tomorrow night after this start but after suffering that humiliation 20 months ago, Ferguson will want to make sure there is no repeat this time.
Simon Grayson will hope to continue his Leeds revival with another famous win over the Reds. After gaining promotion in 2009/2010 from League One, he narrowly missed out on guiding Leeds to the Championship play offs last season; falling short by only three points. Grayson has continued to evolve his side to take them back to the top tier of English football and that is why the Leeds squad to face United will contain only 3 starters from the FA Cup game in 2010.
The hero of that day, Jermaine Beckford, moved on to Everton before winding up at Leicester this season. He has been replaced by Ross McCormack who will hope to emulate Beckford and continue his current goal scoring form on Tuesday night. The young Scot could be partnered up front by last season’s top scorer Luciano Becchio. The Argentine hitman recently returned from a 5 month layoff by scoring in his first appearance of the season against Crystal Palace then setting up McCormack for the winner at the weekend in his second appearance. These telling contributions could see him get his first start of the season ahead of Andy Keogh and Mikael Forssell.
Leeds will look to outfight United once again and that could see the deployment of midfield “hard man” Michael Brown in the centre of the park. I use the term hard man loosely as some may refer to him as nothing more than a thug. He became a hate figure with United fans after a horrendous tackle on Ryan Giggs in 2006. However, this is a game he will relish and his battling qualities are exactly what Leeds will need if they are to get a result.
Stat Zone by Rahul Singh (Follow Rahul on Twitter)
- Manchester Utd & Leeds have met 106 times in their long history. Manchester United have 45 wins, Leeds have 26 wins & 35 matches ending level.
- Leeds and Manchester United have met four times in the League Cup, with United coming out victorious on all four occasions & scoring nine goals.
- Man Utd & Leeds have not met in this competition since 2003 when David Bellion, Diego Forlan and Eric Djemba-Djemba won the game for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.
- The two sides last met in January 2010 when Leeds surprised United with a 1-0 victory in the FA Cup third round at Old Trafford
- Elland Road is a happy hunting ground for Manchester United. We have won 5 out of their last 10 visits to Leeds.
- Leeds have only won twice in the fixture against United at Elland Road in the last 15 years.
- This season Leeds at home have won three out of four games.
The League Cup has always been a breeding ground for United’s youngsters and this year Sir Alex has once again highlighted some up and coming Reds that could feature in this seasons competition. Paul Pogba, Will and Michael Keane, Zeki Fryers, Larnell Cole and Jesse Lingard were all mentioned as possible United debutants this year but that was before the draw was made. When Leeds came out the hat, I’m sure that plan was revised and Tuesday’s game may prove too important an occasion to blood the young lads.
Nevertheless, the squad will need to be rotated. The game comes 48 hours after a tough encounter with Chelsea and I’m sure Sir Alex will have one eye on an equally difficult game away at Stoke on Saturday afternoon. That is why it is unlikely players like Rooney, Nani, Young and Anderson will feature tomorrow.
Even without such important players, United will be able to field an experienced and strong side with the likes of Valencia, Park, Owen and Berbatov vying for a place in the starting line up.
The one area where United may have to field some youngsters is in defence. There is somewhat of a defensive crisis on our hands at the minute with Vidic and Rafael still out, Rio struggling with a calf injury and Smalling coming off at the weekend with a groin injury. We are left with only four fit first team defenders although Rio may make it back in to the squad as he had trained before the Chelsea game, just not enough to be considered. Michael Keane and Zeki Fryers could come in to the reckoning for at least a place on the bench. Reece Brown may also fancy his chances after starring at the under-20 World Cup for England in the summer. Nonetheless, I’d be surprised if any of them started and I’d expect Sir Alex to go with his four first team defenders.
The one player all United fans will want to see in action is Paul Pogba. Quotes emerging from Sir Alex today say he intends to play him but that does not mean he intends to start him. I refuse to get giddy at the thought of him starting as I still feel he’ll have to settle for a place on the bench. I do hope I am wrong though. Experience and guile will be needed in the centre of the pitch to combat a possible midfield triumvirate from Leeds especially when one of those three could be the aforementioned Michael Brown. I’d expect more game time to be given to Carrick and Giggs. Both have started one game so far this season and have only played 184 minutes and 160 minutes respectively. Tomorrow night’s game provides the perfect opportunity for them to get more minutes under their belts.
Without question, the starting XI for this game has been the hardest to predict so far this season. I believe the formation will be a straightforward 4-4-2 although we could go 4-5-1 if Pogba starts to offer him a little more protection.
Predicted bench: Amos, M.Keane, Ferdinand, Fryers, Pogba, Macheda, Diouf
Like the team, the scoreline is equally tough to predict. I’ll be happy to get out of the game with a victory and no injuries but if we do blood a few youngsters and manage a draw I will be equally as pleased. Being positive I’ll go with a 2-0 victory for the Reds.
By Mick Higgins (Follow Mick on Twitter)
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