Going into Manchester United’s Carling Cup quarter-final with Crystal Palace on the back of a couple of disappointing draws in both the Champions League and the Premier League puts added importance on the fixture for Sir Alex Ferguson. A convincing win will help banish any doubts that have crept into the squad in recent weeks, but the game also provides the manager with an opportunity to run the rule over his fringe players, and those same players the opportunity to force themselves into the first team picture.
Chris Smalling is one of the more senior names expected to feature as well, as he continues his comeback from injury, while Antonio Valencia, Park Ji-Sung and possibly Darron Gibson, all substitutes against Newcastle, could feature in midfield. Ben Amos or Anders Lindegaard will start in goal. Joining these familiar names is likely to be the same roster of talented youngsters who featured against Aldershot. Zeki Fryers, Ravel Morrison, Paul Pogba and the somewhat more experienced Federico Macheda are likely to be involved, while Michael Keane also came off the bench in the last round. For a United side that has looked a little staid in their last two games, the involvement of these energetic youngsters could provide valuable freshness to the side.
But will any of these second string players, whatever end of the career spectrum they may be, force their way into the manager’s XI for the Premier League? As Berbatov discovered after his Aldershot performance and subsequent continued exclusion from the league side, the impact may be minimal. But the defeat that preceded the Aldershot match was of a freakish nature, never likely to be repeated. That is not the case now. Two disappointing draws in which United’s defence has been shaky and their attack neutered looks like the start of a worrying pattern, but only if Ferguson and the players allow it to be so. After Crystal Palace comes a trip to Aston Villa and then the vital Champions League tie with Basel in Switzerland. Failure to win those matches would allow Manchester City to stream away at home and dump United out of Europe’s top tier. With those consequences in mind, Ferguson will look for every opportunity to put his side back on track, starting against Crystal Palace.
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