Manchester United host Rochdale in the Carabao Cup third round at Old Trafford tonight. On the back of a pusillanimous performance at West Ham at the weekend, the mood amongst United supporters will be lacklustre. However, United will have reasons to cheer with many of the passive senior players expected to make way for vibrant youngsters after their places in the team – and not just in the cup competitions.
Easing the pressure
A win tonight is a must for United and Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Were Rochdale to dump United out of the Carabao Cup in the third round, even with a rotated and young United side, the mood may turn from flat to mutinous at Old Trafford against Arsenal on Monday night in the league.
Solskjær’s decision to play Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matić as a holding two against West Ham reeked of self-doubt which was then mirrored on the pitch. It’s true that the manager can only pick from who he has at his disposal, and it worked for Solskjær at home to Leicester – but only just. West Ham away was a different proposition and the unchanged side could neither control the game in midfield nor counter-attack purposefully. It was evident after 20 minutes against West Ham that United were in trouble and wouldn’t cope with going behind, and I missed the first 10 minutes.
Gary Neville, in a recent and compelling live show sat with Roy Keane, said of his time managing Valencia that when results were nosediving, his head was all over the place and he continuously made bad decisions and selections. Solskjær appears to be heading in this direction placating Matić especially.
Solskjær may be concerned about how long the kids took to break down Astana in the Europa League last week, but United’s senior players aren’t the ones who will save him if past experience is anything to go by. Solskjær’s mantra is to put faith in youth – Rochdale in the League Cup represents an opportunity to get them up to speed.
A mix of youth...
Axel Tuanzebe, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood should all start as a minimum having turned in good performances last Thursday. Tahith Chong is fortunate that there’s not much competition on the right as he looks to better his showing against Astana, but may have to settle for the bench. James Garner will also want minutes.
… and experience
Including Harry Maguire/Victor Lindelöf, Fred, and Jesse Lingard would be beneficial to spread support and complement the youngsters. Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial are due to return but it remains to be seen whether either will start or feature tonight. United, however, do have five days grace before Arsenal at home in the league, and no travelling, so there’s the opportunity for match time if required for the Frenchmen.
Welp. No pressure, kid. With Marcus Rashford out for the foreseeable, United need Mason Greenwood now and in more than just the cups. Here’s hoping he’s not wasted on the right and is played through the middle. All being well, Solskjær might be draping a ‘Greenwood 26’ shirt over the corner of his television instead in the coming weeks.