As quickly as the massive fixture against Chelsea has now gone away, an away Carling Cup fixture to Leeds comes around only 2 days later. The history between these rivals is a long and bitter feud having played each other 106 times previously with United having won 45 of those in comparison to Leeds 26 (they have drawn the other 35 matches) and the game tonight bears to be no different. The last time these 2 sides met at Old Trafford in the 3rd round of the 2010 FA Cup, a solo goal from Jermaine Beckford gave Leeds a surprise victory that the home fans will no doubt rub in the face of us when we go to Elland Road tonight but considering Leeds have only won 2 times in 15 years against us at Elland Road, history dictates that it is a good feeding ground for United and after the loss at Old Trafford last year, SAF will be keen to reverse the result tonight.
The main reason I am excited tonight, like I am sure a lot of the United faithful are, is that SAF has confirmed that he intends to give starlet Paul Pogba his Senior United debut. Talk about getting thrown in at the deep end. Still a tender 18-year old boy, Pogba has been long touted as a star of the next generation with his combative yet elegant style of midfield play. Few would question the footballing talent of him at such a young age but at just 18, is Pogba mentally ready for the challenges of senior football? Some would argue that there is no age when it comes to real talent, take Fabregas and Rooney breaking into their Arsenal and United respectively at 16, so who’s to say that Pogba isn’t ready without giving him a chance. Although SAF has said that he will Pogba his debut, it would be naive to consider Pogba a guaranteed starter tonight as it is such a massive fixture so early on in the Carling Cup against such a bitter rival but I would hope to see Pogba for at least 30 minutes tonight. Then again, I might be wrong and SAF may choose to play him from the start and if that is the case, we all hope that he can pounce on his first team opportunity and impress enough to be considered for a place on the United first team bench. Our midfield, out of any area in the team, is the place where space is available for a breakthrough talent due to the hole left behind by Hargreaves and Scholes, look no further than the rise of Cleverley to see a point, so the space is there should Pogba impress SAF enough and for me, I hope he starts.
As to who will make up the starting XI, your guess is as good as mine but if Michael Carrick is right, then SAF will choose to bring out the old guard tonight and give them some more game time:
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. 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.
The only guarantee tonight is that Michael Owen will make his first appearance of the season tonight and I think Carrick is right in the fact that United will field some experienced heads tonight, if not for the fact that the young squad has all but overtaken the old guard in the pecking order but considering we played Chelsea only 2 days ago, there will be a few tired legs around. Dimitar Berbatov should start alongside Owen up front but with Diouf and Macheda both vying for the spot as well, SAF might choose to leave the Bulgarian on the bench once again. As for the midfield, I consider Michael Carrick the only guaranteed starter: I think SAF might choose to field Valencia as well due to his good showing as a substitute against Chelsea on Sunday and might partner him with Park Ji Sung on the wings. Darren Fletcher got a lot of minutes against Chelsea and isn’t fully match fit so he will surely be rested tonight as will Anderson, who played a below par performance on Sunday. The defence, on the other hand, is contested by much fewer heads due to the injuries that have been sustained. Vidic, Smalling and Rafael all remain absent from the ranks and the squad might find itself stretched tonight: Jones, Evra, Ferdinand, Evans and Fabio are the only remaining experienced defenders in the squad but will Michael Keane, Ezekiel Fryers and Tom Thorpe, SAF might choose to give another academy youngster their senior bow. I hope that Ferdinand can start tonight against his old club because he is in desperate need of game time if he is to regain fitness but the pessimist inside me tells me that the door is slowly closing on his United career.
As for the result, I refuse to believe that United will not want to punish Leeds for the FA Cup exit from last year. SAF will want a ruthless performance from his players from the first until the last minute and will want to smother Leeds on their home turf tonight. Having won 3 out of their 4 home games this season, they have made an amicable start to the season at home but dealing with United will be a whole different kettle of fish. This game won’t be anything like the glitz and glamour that we have been treated to so far in the Premier League this season but I expect United to come out firing on all cylinders and I hope that Pogba will be the catalyst and bag himself at least an assist. I was spot on with my 3-1 prediction against Chelsea with Rooney scoring and tonight I will lay my money on a 2-1 victory with Owen getting at least one of the goals. Let’s see if lightning strikes twice.