By Adam Joseph
When it comes to rotation and cup competitions, many believe Carling Cup fixtures mean complete rotation. It’s a chance for key players to rest and fringe players to impress. At the same time those concerned automatically assume even if their club are playing an opponent inferior to their own, victory is guaranteed despite this rotation.
This morning was another reminder that’s not the case. Manchester United’s rivals Arsenal replaced most of their best XI with unproven youngsters and fringe squad players for this morning’s cup fixture with Championship side Sheffield Wednesday. Whilst some first teamers walked out, the side was not Arsene Wenger’s preferred starting line up and looked nothing like the team who played Everton. This side was taken apart and embarrassed 3-0.
Meanwhile Jose Mourinho rotated in some fringe players for Chelsea’s Carling Cup match with Stoke City. Not a keen rotator at the best of times (let alone giving youth a chance) the Portuguese rotated in the likes of new signing Baba Rahman and forgotten man John Obi Mikel to aid their ailing first choice forward line who kept their place.
They came back from 1-0 down to equalise and force extra time. But despite playing 10 men they couldn’t find a winner, and Eden Hazard’s miss in the penalty shootout also saw them eliminated.
As Louis Van Gaal and Manchester United head into tomorrow’s clash with Middlesbrough, the Dutchman would be wise to heed the warning this morning’s results brought. It’s simple enough to rotate a team and give the regulars a rest. To do whilst maintaining continuity and good play is another matter altogether.
Van Gaal has shown his ability to motivate fringe players however, and his fondness for a small squad is part of the reason why.
“I have always preferred small selections [squads]. I think I have the smallest selection in the Premier League. I believe in smaller squads because you need perspective otherwise the motivation is a doubt.” Van Gaal said to ESPNFC.
The Dutchman has developed a knack for keeping players on their toes. Ander Herrera and Marcos Rojo have responded well to being dropped by the manager, and perhaps there’s something to this. Is it potentially a way he feels motivates certain players?
If so, it could pay dividends for the likes of Memphis Depay. The Dutch youngster has struggled to adjust to English football thus far with some good but inconsistent displays, and has not started the last three fixtures. He was visibly disappointed to not get on the pitch in the Manchester derby.
This might be the chance for Memphis to redeem himself. It’s a lesser opponent on paper but no challenger should be underestimated. James Wilson and Andreas Pereira are in contention for selection according to Van Gaal, and Jesse Lingard’s recent run in the team should continue with another start for the youngster.
It was a sign of progress and increasing expectations that the weekend’s draw at home with Manchester City saw fans very disappointed they couldn’t get all three points. During a recent run of tough fixtures this cup game is somewhat of a reprieve, but the game is pivotal nevertheless.
A good performance sends the message to fans that the club are re-establishing the fear factor against their lesser rivals when they come to Old Trafford. That fear is being restored yes, but the Red Devils are not sweeping every opponent away as easily as they once did at the Theatre of Dreams.
The crafty ex-Real Madrid player Aitor Karanka now manages Boro, who sit 4th in the English second tier at present so they shouldn’t be taken too lightly. Boasting the likes of Stewart Downing, on loan defender Tomas Kalas (joined at the back by Daniel Ayala) and Championship goal machine David Nugent, they have the ability to trouble United.
United should defeat them comprensively, but no game in football is easy nowadays. Van Gaal should pay attention to the warnings earlier results have brought, but that doesn’t mean key players can’t be rested with Chris Smalling and Anthony Martial rumoured to be sitting this game out.
How he goes about this rotation however combined with his ability to motivate the players for a Wednesday night Carling Cup game will play a decisive role in progressing to the next round. A healthy combination of both should see them through.
Adam Joseph is a freelance writer from Melbourne, Australia. Manchester United fan from back when they were the only team on Australian TV and it was love at first sight. Manchester United, Oklahoma City Thunder, New England Patriots and Carlton Blues fanatic. If it’s sport related, I’ll talk about it.
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