Manchester United begin their 2012/13 Capital One Cup (aka League Cup) campaign on Wednesday night when they host Premier League side Newcastle United at Old Trafford. Alan Pardew's side certainly got the better of Sir Alex Ferguson's last season as the Magpies followed a 1-1 league draw at the 'Theatre of Dreams' in November with a convincing 3-0 victory in the reverse fixture. The Red Devils were eliminated from this competition last season by Championship side Crystal Palace in a quarter-final tie.
Team News: The injury situation has already been relatively dire in the young season -- particularly in central-defense -- and the news only got worse on Tuesday when it was revealed that captain Nemanja Vidic would miss eight weeks due to a meniscus tear in his right knee. In addition, there's even speculation now that winger Antonio Valencia is injured after he reportedly left Carrington -- United's training ground -- on crutches. Other known injuries are to Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and Ashley Young. Fergie has said recently that Rooney is still not ready to return but there have been rumblings that the attacker could possibly feature at some point in this match.
Who might feature?: It seems likely that Anders Lindegaard will be rested and rotated out after featuring versus Liverpool at the past weekend. David de Gea might get the game but youngster Sam Johnstone is certainly possible as well. In central-defense, first-choice central-defenders Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans will surely be rested and that should provide an opportunity for Michael Keane and Scott Wootton. Alexander Buttner is anticipated to get the start at left-back. At right-back, Rafael will likely be rotated out after featuring three times in a recent 9-day span.
Because a number of central-midfielders are in need of a game, and because there are a number of promising youngsters at the position as well, it's very possible that Fergie elects to deploy a three-man midfield. Darren Fletcher is expected to start for the first time in ten months and first-team players such as Tom Cleverley, Nick Powell, and/or Anderson could feature alongside him. Youngsters that could get an opportunity in the center of park include Davide Petrucci, Jesse Lingard, and Ryan Tunnicliffe.
Out wide in attack, Nani is likely to be rested but first-team strikers Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda could pushed into a role out wide. Larnell Cole and Robbie Brady are young wingers that could get a surprise start while Bebe (!) is a possibility as well. Up front, the likes of Welbeck, Macheda, and Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) are in contention while youngsters Angelo Henriquez and Joshua King could make the bench.
Who might feature?: Expect Rob Elliot in goal while captain Fabricio Coloccini may use this match as a return from his recent hamstring injury. Candidates to possibly join Coloccini in the back four include the likes of Curtis Good, James Tavernier, Michael Williamson, James Perch, and Shane Ferguson.
In midfield, most of Pardew's first-choice players are probably going to be rested. Old United boy Gabriel Obertan might get the start at Old Trafford on one of the flanks. Midfield destroyer Cheik Tiote has recently returned from injury and his manager said the Ivorian would feature in this match. Sylvain Marveaux, Haris Vuckic, and Gael Bigirimana are in contention as well.
Up front, Papiss Cisse could start in an effort to ignite his goalscoring. Youngster Xisco is possible as well.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
As you've probably noticed, this preview has deviated slightly from the normal template. There is no form guide and there will be no tactical preview because heavy squad rotation makes writing about both a futile exercise. Nonetheless, there are some intriguing things to keep an eye out for and here's what I personally will be paying attention to:
* Darren Fletcher - Going forward, in regards to Fletch and his difficult to manage bowel condition, it's certainly best not to rely on the energetic central-midfielder because of the unpredictability of his illness. Whatever contribution the Scotsman can offer the club should be treated merely as a bonus. Even if he's available for selection, the consistency of his fitness and form will be a constant concern. Nonetheless, United clearly have a need for someone with a bit more presence to act as a screener for the technical passers in midfield. I will be looking to see how sharp Fletch is and I would love see him be close to his old energetic self. No matter what kind of form he's in, it'll just be nice to see him possibly start again after the difficulties he's endured the past few years.
* Scott Wootton and Michael Keane: With Vida out for eight weeks or so, and with Smalling and Jones out still, it might be an opportunity for either/both Wooton and Keane to impress. As it stands now, only Ferdinand and Evans are first-team players available for selection in central-defense and the former is a constant injury concern. Next up in the pecking order would be midfielder Michael Carrick. However, the first two games of the season -- when the midfield maestro was deployed in central-defense -- showed his vulnerabilities there. If Wootton and/or Keane are able to impress, perhaps Fergie would consider using one of the youngsters as cover in the upcoming weeks if Rio or Jonny were to pick up a knock. If Cisse does indeed start for Newcastle, then he would certainly be a test for the two young central-defenders who are expected to start. It doesn't get much more difficult in the Premier League for a center-back than having to mark a player such as Cisse.
* Summer signings that aren't Robin van Persie or Shinji Kagawa: We've seen plenty of, and been impressed by, our two marquee summer signings -- RvP and Kagawa. We've seen (impressive) glimpses of Buttner and Powell but not nearly enough to form any strong opinions on either. Both might feature in this match and it will be another opportunity for the coaching staff and supporters to get a longer look at both promising players. There's the potential for 18-year-old Henriquez to make his debut as well and not many of us know too much about the young Chilean. My attention will certainly be with each of these players when they are on the pitch.
KO: 7:45pm BST, 2:45pm EST | Old Trafford
Live TV: Sky Sports (U.K.), beIN Sport (U.S.A.)
Odds: Manchester United 4/9, Draw 10/3, Newcastle United 6/1