Match Preview: MK Dons v Man Utd (Capital One Cup 2nd Round)

mkdons-v-man-utd

I must admit to being a bit confused about what I’m seeing from Manchester United at the moment.

In pre-season, we were playing some superb football, the team looked full of confidence and the fast, free-flowing stuff which has been a feature of Manchester United through the years all came flooding back.

This, of course, was all put down to the Louis van Gaal effect.

It seems, however, to have been merely the effect of playing a game without the pressures of actually winning coming into play because our two Premier League games so far this season have seen us play as badly as we ever did under David Moyes last season.

Tonight, we take on a team that currently sits in seventh place of League One. Yes, it’s an away fixture but it is a match we would be expected to win comfortably but the lack of confidence felt by the fans about it is surely a reflection of the lack of confidence that already seems to be pervading the squad.

As I write, we are awaiting the announcement of our new record signing, Angel Di Maria and it is to be hoped that such a huge signing will provide the fillip that our players so obviously need right now.

If things continue as they are even after the signing of Di Maria then I really don’t know what the answer is. Van Gaal’s will have a problem on his hands the solving of which will require him to earn every penny of his substantial salary.

That all said, tonight does provide an opportunity to actually win a game of football and I do believe that with no European football there to distract us this season, we need to give 100% in these domestic competitions and do all that we can to win one of them.

What is unclear at this moment in time is how LvG will view this competition. Fergie never really valued it highly and would often use it as an opportunity to blood a few youngsters.

That was when we had bigger fish to fry, though, and I’m not sure LvG has that luxury at the moment. Should we lose tonight then the press will have knives, machetes and chainsaws out.

This all seems to be a part of the problem, though and after the abject failure of last season, all seem eager to put things right this season which only adds pressure which leads to the poor performances on the pitch which all becomes something of a vicious circle.

LvG picked up on it a bit when he said after our performance against Sunderland over the weekend that sometimes we rushed the final ball and sometimes we took too long to play that final ball.

It’s a mixture of anxiety and wanting good things to happen and over-cautiousness and wanting to make absolutely sure that nothing bad will happen.

United are at their best when the football is more instinctive. One and two-touch passing at pace that leaves the opponent wondering what just hit them. When we dare to win and fears of losing don’t even enter the head.

Quite what we will see tonight, though, is anyone’s guess. I cannot bring myself to think of anything other than a United victory but the MK Dons will be fully aware that if there was ever a good time to draw Manchester United in a cup competition then it’s probably now and will seek to take advantage of that fact.

The bookies think that this will be a routine win for United and it could well turn out that way but I think the Dons are well over-priced at around 9.0 (8/1) and I think a little dabble on the Dons in the Asian Handicap is worth a go.

Man Utd v Sunderland (Capital One Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg)

Being beaten 2-1 by Sunderland in the first leg of this tie would normally be regarded as something of a shock but… not to worry… we’ll sort it out at Old Trafford.

This season, however, it was much less of a shock. There was almost a feeling of inevitability that the club at the foot of the Premier League table would get one over on us at their place.

Most worrying, however, is the feeling that Old Trafford is nowhere near the fortress it was until just last season.

Four teams have already beaten us here in the league this season and we have actually picked up more points away from home than at Old Trafford.

With Vidic being stupidly red carded against Chelsea at the weekend, he’s going to miss this one so it looks like Moyes will have to go with Smalling (or Jones) and Evans in defence.

I have a sneaky feeling that he may go with Fletcher and Cleverley in midfield and Hernandez and Welbeck up front with Januzaj and probably Valencia taking the wider positions.

In short, it is looking weakened in every department.

Our defence is my greatest concern at the moment, though.

In recent years, we haven’t been massively prolific scorers – goals from midfield have almost completely dried up and whilst the signing of Fellaini may have raised a few eyebrows, the sad fact is that he scored more goals for Everton last year than our entire midfield combined.

Without Rooney and Van Persie, our goalscoring threat is obviously drastically reduced, too.

However, we have usually been able to overcome this kind of problem in the past by having a pretty watertight defence.

Our defence against Chelsea on Sunday was appallingly poor. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I would have thought I was watchinga Sunday League team consisting of players who’d only just met each other that morning.

At set-pieces, no one seemed to know who they were supposed to be picking up or even roughly where they were supposed to be standing.

Matches between Chelsea and United had always been tight affairs; usually separated by a moment of genius, a silly mistake or a bad refereeing decision.

On Sunday, Chelsea probably couldn’t believe how easy it was for them to open up a 3-0 lead even though we’d probably enjoyed the lion’s share of possession.

What this has to do with tonight is that there can be no repeat. We’re not scoring bucketloads and, at 2-1 down, should Sunderland take a lead here, they’re going to be well and truly in the driving seat.

Whoever plays tonight, I want to see us really go for it. I want to see a fast tempo and plenty of players getting into the box. I want to see us 2-0 up by half-time.

Failing that, I’d settle for us not defending like a bunch of complete muppets. That, at least, would give me some confidence in this team moving forward.

Sunderland v Man Utd (League Cup Semi 1st Leg)

adnan

In a two-legged tie, it’s always been good for United to get drawn away from home. In the past we’ve always had the belief that, so long as we come back to Old Trafford with a reasonable scoreline, we can do whatever is necessary to progress.

This season, an away tie is good for a completely different reason.

This season, it could be argued that we have looked better when playing away from home and it will be Sunderland believing that if they can keep the scoreline reasonable in this leg, they have a chance of overturning it at Old Trafford!

Sunderland, of course, have not been without their own problems this season but the appointment of Gus Poyet seems, from this outsider’s point of view, to have been a smart move by the Sunderland hierarchy.

However, they do remain at the foot of the Premier League table and their finest moments have been in this tournament. Certainly their elimination of Chelsea in the last round was as impressive as it was unexpected and should act as a warning to anyone involved with Manchester United that a team on the Wembley trail can be a dangerous animal.

Right now, I have to say that although the bookies make us strong favourites to go through, I simply cannot share their confidence.

Due to poor results so far this season, we’ve piled enormous pressure on ourselves and it is starting to show in performances (and results). Swansea exploited the growing unrest and nervousness when they knocked in their last minute winner over the weekend.

I feel that we need to win tonight and, preferably, win by a couple of goals. If Sunderland can hold us to a draw or even beat us tonight then they will be the ones coming to Old Trafford in a confident mood. Sounds bizarre to say it but that’s how I see it right now.

I’m hoping that we just throw off the shackles and go for it this evening.

Stoke v Man Utd (League Cup 2013-14)

Manchester United v Stoke

It’s Capital One Cup action this evening against yet another Premier League opponent – Stoke.

The reports I’ve read suggest that Moyes will be ringing the changes once again for this one. This was always on the cards but it is a cause for concern because he does tend to make a few too many changes for my liking.

It also means that predicting how this game will go is all the more difficult.

What we do know is that Stoke have been pretty decent at home this season with just one defeat in the league but managed to hold Manchester City to a 0-0 earlier in the season and, in their last home match, notched up an impressive 3-2 win over Chelsea.

We have, of course, played Stoke at Old Trafford this season and on that occasion we were pushed all the way but managed to come from behind twice before running out 3-2 winners.

If Moyes thinks he can put out a second-string team here, I think we could well come unstuck.

I think we can expect a tough game here this evening and I very much doubt that there’ll be a ton of goals.

Man Utd v Norwich (Capital One Cup 2013-14 – Round Four)

It’s been a tough start to the season for Chris Hughton and his players and this week is no different as they find themselves playing us at Old Trafford tonight and City at the Etihad on Saturday.

Hughton must be wondering what he did to upset the football gods so much.

Norwich meet us in this fourth round Capital One Cup tie having squeezed past Watford 3-2 in the last round whilst we, of course, overcame an in-form Liverpool side 1-0.

The way things are going for us so far this season, I don’t think Moyes has any room to be too picky about his targets – at this moment in time, this competition represents our best chance of silverware and that he will be taking tonight’s match very seriously is surely beyond question.

Around this time last year, Norwich stunned us in the Premier League with a 1-0 win at Carrow Road but we hammered them 4-0 in the return fixture at Old Trafford earlier this year (Kagawa scored a hat-trick).

This isn’t particularly unusual, in the few meetings we’ve had with them in recent years, they have inflicted a couple fo defeats on us at their place but we’ve always beaten them here at Old Trafford.

However, any side coming to Old Trafford at the moment must come with a little more confidence than usual.

In terms of our attacking play, we do seem to be getting on top of things but defensively, we still look incredibly dis-organised at times and Norwich will surely fancy their chances of exploiting that weakness.

Whilst I do believe that Moyes will be looking for a win here tonight, it is always difficult to predict the kind of team he will put out.

When we played Liverpool in the last round, Moyes made several changes from the team he had largely selected for the preceding Premier League matches and, initially, looked like being the “second-string”.

However, the players took their opportunity to shine and actually outperformed what had previously been the “first team”.

I feel that this left Moyes more confused than ever and he still doesn’t seem to have settled on any particular team – he’s swapped and changed with almost every game since – especially in the defensive positions.

I suspect we’ll see even more defensive changes tonight with Buttner probably being given the nod ahead of Evra. What Moyes goes for in central defence is becoming anyone’s guess but he does seem to have decided that the Ferdinand/Vidic partnership isn’t the future and is probably no longer even the present.

What he goes for in midfield here is hard to say but Carrick is probably due a rest whereas Anderson is probably due a game.

Hernandez did his case no harm with his goal over the weekend and, despite not featuring too much in this competition down the years, his goal return in it, when picked, has been impressive and I’d expect to see him continue tonight.

Welbeck has had to take a back-seat of late and this could be the opportunity he needs to get back into the thick of things again.

Moyes has a bit of a dilemma with Januzaj. On the one hand, he doesn’t want to over-use him but the lad looks like he’s champing at the bit every time he comes on and, in truth, has already become too important to overlook. I’d expect him to start tonight, too.

Nani was the subject of some booing from United fans over the weekend. Moyes was quick to defend him and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him throw Nani back into the fray tonight with the advice to remind everyone what Nani can do.

Making any kind of prediction for this match is obviously difficult due to all the unknowns but I do believe that we will win and if the defence can put in a solid performance, we could win comfortably.

However, my confidence in our defence isn’t high right now so a Norwich goal cannot be discounted.

Man Utd v Liverpool (3rd Round Capital One Cup)

suarez-evra

This one officially signals the end of Moyes’ “tough start” to the season. From here on in, it becomes merely difficult and should Liverpool knock us out of this competition this evening then however much we might say “Oh well, it’s only the Capital One Cup”, Moyes is going to find himself under severe pressure.

We have, of course, already been beaten by Liverpool 1-0 when we played them at Anfield in the league the other week so this does represent the chance to get some sort of revenge over them early doors.

The likelihood is that Moyes is going to make several changes to the line-up for this one. The media have already decided that this represents a cull at United following our trouncing by City over the weekend but I suspect Moyes would have made changes for this one irrespective of previous results in the League.

Under Fergie we only ever saw anything even remotely resembling a “first choice” starting eleven if we reached the semis and the final of this competition and I don’t see why we should expect much different from Moyes.

The difference in the past, though, is that more often than not we found ourselves sitting top or thereabouts in the League by this stage and this one would be little more than the chance for Fergie to cut loose and experiment a bit – perhaps give some of the better youth-team players their chance on the Old Trafford stage.

I’m not sure Moyes is in a position to afford himself that kind of luxury today.

The good news is that our record against Liverpool at Old Trafford has been very good in recent seasons. Their 4-1 victory over us was well over four years ago now and you have to go back a further five years for their last victory before that.

Whatever line-up Moyes goes with tonight, the focus is likely to be on a player that Brendan Rodgers will likely start with – Luis Suarez.

This would seem to be an ideal game for Suarez to come back from his ten-match ban in. It’s against top opposition in a match that won’t really make or break anyone’s season either way. Suarez himself seems to be raring to go and will be looking to take out his frustrations on our net. Rodgers himself used the rather unfortunate phrase “he’s chomping at the bit” to describe Suarez’ frame of mind yesterday.

Anyway, back to the game.

I find it hard to believe that this one will be as cagey as the League encounter. Obviously, neither team will want to lose but the tie will be decided tonight – even if it goes to penalties – so there’ll be none of this “grab a draw and take it back to Anfield” mentality from Liverpool.

I think both sides will be going for the goals from the off.

Our own goal-scoring prospects have been dealt a bit of a blow with the injury to Van Persie but he may well have been rested for this one anyway.

The price on the outright win for United is tempting but the possibility of this ending in a draw after ninety minutes is strong.

I still think a small punt on the straight United win represents the value here, though.

Man Utd v Newcastle (Capital One Cup 4th Round)

The League Cup gets underway for us tonight with a new sponsor (Capital One) but an old adversary in Newcastle and as opening round fixtures go, we couldn’t have landed any much trickier than this.

Trying to make any kind of prediction in this tournament is never easy. The United side that runs out tonight is going to be at best a second-string side and is likely to feature some of the more prominent youngsters from the reserve ranks.

Fergie has already gone on record as saying that the priority is our next two Premier League fixtures so he won’t be taking any risks with the personnel in this one and I can certainly see a much-weakened defensive line-up as we can’t afford to lose any more of the first-teamers.

To a large extent, the same can probably be said of Newcastle though. They know that if they have anything like the Premier League campaign that they enjoyed last season this season then Champions League football is not a complete impossibility and so I suspect that this competition – whilst being a realistic target for silverware – will also come down the pecking order, at least in these early stages.

I’m not going to analyse this one too much. I think it will be a pretty open affair and I can see goals so that will form the basis of my bet.

The bet is 3 points OVER 2.5 goals @ 1.61 with Stan James.

www.stanjames.com

Man Utd v Crystal Palace (Carling Cup)

Without wanting to sound disrespectful to Crystal Palace (and with thoughts of what Leeds did to us here in the FA Cup a couple of years ago still fresh in the memory) the Carling Cup draw appears to have been kind to us once again for this, our quarter final match.

Not that I would have been too bothered had we drawn City, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool in this round from a progress point of view but it might have meant that Fergie wouldn’t be quite so bold with some of the selections he will undoubtedly make this evening and that would have been a shame for the lads concerned.

I’m talking, of course, about players like Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison and (possibly) Zeki Fryers who have been given their first team chances away from home so far in the competition but tonight might be expected to make their Old Trafford debuts and from the start, rather than from the bench.

Of course, none of us really knows what Fergie has in mind for the game this evening and trying to guess his team selection for any match these days is a little like trying to guess Saturday’s Lottery numbers, only you don’t get seven million quid for getting it right.

What we do know, however, is that he will be playing a team which he believes will be good enough to win the match.

Crystal Palace are not the force they once were and came quite close to being relegated from the Championship last season and this season is not shaping up much better for them as they sit in mid-division and without a win in their last six games but, somewhat bizarrely, they have beaten two of the better teams in the Championship (including leaders Southampton) to get to this stage of this competition.

However, I simply have to believe that we will have too much for them at Old Trafford this evening. The team Fergie puts out will have a smattering of “kids” but there will also be a lot of experience and quality in there. Berbatov was used in our last Carling Cup game and it seemed to rejuvenate him. Players such as Park and Valencia could also be included.

We have won both of our previous Carling Cup games 3-0 so far and it would seem unlikely that we’ll repeat that scoreline again but Crystal Palace are struggling for goals at the moment (the same could be said about us, I suppose) and have scored just two in their last seven league games.

I suspect Lindegaard will be given his chance in goal and, given competition for places, whoever Fergie chooses in defence will be giving everything to ensure that a clean sheet is kept so this won’t help Palace in their quest to get on the scoresheet so I’ll be very surprised if they score tonight.

The bookies are pretty convinced that we’ll win this one comfortably and that it will be a high scoring game, though. We certainly could win this 2-0 or 3-0 (or even beyond that) but I’d really like to see who will be playing upfront before going overboard on that kind of bet.

For this one, I am going to have a tentative bet on the corners market. I can see a lot of the play being in Palace’s half and if this doesn’t result in goals for us then it could result in plenty of corners.

The bet is 2 points Manchester United -4 on the Corner Handicap @ 2.00 with Paddy Power.

Aldershot Town 0 – 3 Man Utd (Carling Cup 4th Round)

Playing a game just 48 hours after your last is not something is normally welcomed but for most United fans, this match couldn’t come quickly enough. A different day, a different competition, a different challenge.

It was also, obviously, quite a different team than the one that went down against Manchester City at the weekend.

Ben Amos was given a chance in goal and did superbly well. The defensive line-up was Fabio on the right, Vidic and Jones in the centre and young Fryers was given the chance to build on his fantastic display in our first game against Leeds but this time played over on the left and, as far as I could see, didn’t put a foot wrong again all evening.

Seeing Vidic get through a full 90 minutes was great but, as usual, he sailed close to the wind on occasion and picked up a booking for a messy foul with the game barely a few minutes old – he probably needed this 90 minutes and it cast some light on why he wasn’t selected for the game against City at the weekend.

The midfield was something along the lines of Diouf on the left, Valencia on the right with Park and Cleverly in the middle.

Cleverley managed to get in an hour on this is comeback from injury so that was a welcome sight and Park put in a typically hard-working performance and added some composure to the midfield.

Up front, we had Owen and Berbatov and these two – Berba, in particular, did their causes no harm whatsoever with fine displays.

Anyway, the game itself was probably as you would expect, United dominating possession throughout and piling the pressure on Aldershot from the off. As already mentioned, Berba had a great game and really did look like he had a point to prove. He often gets accused of being lazy (or at least, looking a bit disinterested at times) but that criticism couldn’t be leveled at him in this game – he was everywhere and he thoroughly deserved his goal to open the scoring after fifteen minutes and then played a fantastic assist for Owen to grab our second just before half-time.

However, there was one moment later in the game which perhaps sums Berba up. He went on a fantastic run almost from one box to the other, showing great strength and determination to get himself into a position where a goal looked likely only to slip it wide with an almost nonchalant effort. It could be that he was just knackered after such a lung-bursting run or it could just have been Berba being Berba –   it’s hard to decide but it is moments such as those that divide people’s opinion of him to such an extent.

However, for a guy who has almost become a forgotten man this season, he showed great character in this game and did as much as anyone else on the pitch.

The goal of the match, however, was our third which came just after half-time from Antonio Valencia. With the ball at his feet, hovering a few yards outside the penalty area, everyone expected him to try to pick out a pass or perhaps attempt to go back down the outside but he stunned everyone by unleashing a terrific swerving drive that beat the Aldershot keeper all over the place. It was so good and so unusual that even Antonio himself broke into a smile.

Whilst we always looked in control here, Aldershot had one or two chances of their own, especially towards the end of the match when Fergie started to make his changes (Michael Keane on for Fryers, Paul Pogba on for Cleverly, Ravel Morrison on for Diouf) and we perhaps started to take our foot off the gas but the timing of our second and third goals (just before and after half time) had knocked most of the stuffing out of the Aldershot players who were just looking for a souvenir of the occasion by the end of the game.

And so we go through to the Fifth Round, another 3-0 victory with plenty of the youngsters getting their chance to shine.

We are, of course, now getting towards the stage of the competition where getting drawn against tougher opposition is inevitable but I hope that Fergie will give these lads another chance if the draw is kind to us again when it is drawn this Saturday.

Aldershot Town v Man Utd (Carling Cup 4th Round)

Well, I haven’t even had time to do a review of the City match (I’ve had chance to watch it through again though and it was less painful to watch than I thought it was as I do intend to give my thoughts on the match) but such is life as for anyone involved with Manchester United that we have to put Sunday’s game behind us and pick ourselves us for another important match just two days later.

Yes, tonight, we travel to Aldershot Town for our Carling Cup Fourth Round match.

Aldershot are currently playing their football in League Two which is obviously now the fourth tier in English football so there’s quite a distance between the two teams but I think it is fair to say that Fergie will be fielding a team tonight that will be unrecognisable from the one that plays in the Premier League.

We saw a few clues in our opening Carling Cup campaign as he handed debuts to the likes of Pogba, Fryers and Cole and whilst Cole didn’t really get enough time to make any impression either way, Fryers looked very good and Pogba improved as the match progressed. Of the three, I would certainly expect Pogba to feature tonight and it might even be that Fergie plays the other two and maybe even a couple more of the young reserves at some stage.

However, it won’t be a complete team of kids, we do have some of the senior players in need of action and, similar to the first game in this competition against Leeds, this might be the chance to give the likes of Owen and Berbatov a run.

As for Aldershot, well, they enjoyed a very good result over the weekend as they beat Dag & Red 5-2 away from home but that came on the back of four straight league defeats and it is their home form which has been letting them down somewhat having won just one of their six games at the Recreation Ground so far this season.

It seems pointless trying to analyse this one too much but I think we’ll win here tonight. We’ve done well in this competition for several years now and whoever Fergie picks will play to the best of their ability and, given the talent we have in the youth ranks allied with the top notch pros we have in the experienced ranks, that is often more than enough for most teams and it will come as almost as big a shock as Sunday’s result should we get a thumping here tonight.

Picking a decent bet isn’t easy though. The bookies expect us to win and win easily. They also seem to think that there will be at least three goals scored but, judging by the prices, seem to think that Aldershot will score at least one goal of their own and I’m not too convinced about that so the bet is going to be based on us keeping a clean sheet.

The bet is 3 points Both Teams to Score NO @ 1.83 with Stan James.

www.stanjames.com