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Starting XI: Manchester United vs. Rochdale

After a pitiful loss at the weekend, the Reds need a win on Wednesday

Southampton FC v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images

Everyone’s favorite competition is back. Manchester United take on Rochdale in the third round of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night at Old Trafford. After a listless defeat at West Ham, the Reds need to bounce back against their local-ish lower-league rivals. Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the match.

(1) Manchester United turned in one of the most disheartening efforts of the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer era at the weekend. The Hammers dispatched their visitors with disturbing ease, rarely looking threatened en route to a 2-0 victory. Sunday was just a disaster all around — overrun in midfield, toothless up top, and careless in defense. Very poor stuff.

(2) Ole’s team selection for last week’s Europa League Group L win over FC Astana provides a hint for Wednesday. Expect a heavy dose of the club’s young contingent — including usual suspects like Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong, Axel Tuanzebe, and Diogo Dalot. And, with none of the big guns named to Monday’s U23 squad, perhaps even a chance for Jimmy Garner, Brandon Williams, or Dylan Levitt. What about Mason Greenwood? More on him in a minute.

(3) Solskjaer shouldn’t worry about sending out the kids against Rochdale. First of all, could they really do any worse than what we just saw on Sunday? Second, Rochdale lost 2-0 to Manchester City’s U21s in the EFL Trophy a few weeks ago. No slight against the League One club, but the Reds should roll.

(4) Of course, the squad for Wednesday will heavily depend on the health of some key players. Greenwood, who many expected to start at West Ham, came down with tonsillitis and missed the trip to London altogether. Ole also tipped the Rochdale match for a possible Paul Pogba return. This could be a good chance to ease Pogba — or any of the other recovering first-teamers — back onto the pitch with a late substitute appearance.

(5) The big concern, though, is Marcus Rashford. The 21-year-old limped off the London Stadium pitch in the 60th minute with a groin injury. He’s now off for scans, so club and supporters alike can only sit by anxiously hoping for good news. And there hasn’t been a ton of that lately. United remain dangerously thin up front, a problem only compounded with recent injuries and illness. If not for Daniel James popping up with a few unexpected goals, this attack would be a disaster.

(6) Rashford played all 90 minutes midweek against Astana and looked winded throughout the first half on Sunday. Gary Neville, speaking on Sky Sports, pointed it out right away: “He’s not looked right all game. He looked tired in the first half, gasping for air.” Who knows whether fatigue contributed to his groin injury in the West Ham match, but it looks like a gamble that backfired on the boss. Perhaps most worryingly, if Rashford misses any length of time, we’ll be back to watching Pogba take penalties. And no one wants that.

(7) United won this competition back in 2016/17 during José Mourinho’s first season in charge. Last year, the Reds bowed out at this stage after coming up just short against Derby County in a penalty shootout. The first fifteen penalties were all converted, handing Frank Lampard’s Rams an 8-7 advantage as Phil Jones stepped up to the spot. As one might expect, it did not go well.

(8) Brian Barry-Murphy took over as Rochdale manager last March after serving as first-team coach under former boss Keith Hill. Staring relegation in the face, he quickly righted the ship and steered Rochdale to safety — with an attractive style of play that’s not terribly common in lower league football.

(9) Despite all the fancy football, Rochdale have struggled to push on this season. After nine League One matches, they’re down in 17th with a -4 GD. In the club’s last two road matches, the Dale suffered an embarrassing 6-0 loss to Darren Ferguson’s Peterborough United and a 2-1 reverse at the weekend against Fleetwood Town.

(10) To reach the third round, Rochdale defeated financial basket case Bolton Wanderers and then Carlisle United. And, while they enter Old Trafford as massive underdogs on Wednesday, no one minds the long odds. For lower league clubs, if it can’t be an easy draw, at least make it a money-spinning one. Rochdale are ready to cash in.

(11) Barry-Murphy shared his thoughts about the draw with Ireland’s The42:

“It’s unreal for the lads. We played Carlisle in the previous round, the draw was on the Wednesday night and we had a game. The lads went into meltdown the following day. The atmosphere was like a stag do.

“Should I try and calm them down? I just thought there was no point. I was excited myself. Half of Cork has been on to me about tickets and flights and stuff, so there’s an unreal atmosphere and energy.”