Louis van Gaal has hinted that he will make several changes to his lineup when his Manchester United side host Middlesbrough in the fourth round of the Capital One Cup on Wednesday. United played out a goalless draw with Manchester City on Sunday to remain two points off the Premier League summit. And, while Van Gaal has always played up the importance of the League Cup and the chance it provides him to land a first trophy at Manchester United, a fourth game in 11 days means he could give some of his first-team players the night off.
“I have a lot of players in the 'red zone' because we have had a lot of matches and we have a lot of matches to play,” he told MUTV on Tuesday. “I have to see if I can use them or not. I have to decide tomorrow. We need all the days to recover at this moment, so it is difficult to say.”
One player who will definitely sit out the fixture is Antonio Valencia, who was forced off injured in the Manchester derby and now joins Luke Shaw, Paddy McNair and Ashley Young on the sidelines. Also likely to miss out is Bastian Schweinsteiger, given that the 31-year-old has started the last three matches.
In the last round Van Gaal elected to field plenty of experience in a 3-0 defeat of Ipswich Town. United’s second goal that night, though, came courtesy of the one youngster on show, Andreas Pereira. Making his first competitive start for the club, the 19-year-old scored a fine free-kick, and is hoping to get the chance to make a similar impression on Wednesday.
“I hope I get another opportunity [on Wednesday] and I hope I can show the manager and impress everyone in the stadium and my teammates,” he told the club’s match day program, United Review.
“If a free-kick appears and you’ve been practicing, you sometimes have a feeling you will score. You feel confident and it’s a very good feeling when the ball goes in. I spend a lot of time practicing them, but I also try to improve everything, not especially one thing. I practice my free-kicks, my shooting, my dribbling -- everything.”
United will doubtless be wary of underestimating opponents that only just missed out on promotion to the Premier League with defeat in the Playoff Final last season, and are currently riding high in fourth place in the Championship. Middlesbrough have also provided recent evidence that they can more than match the Premier League elite. Last season, the team led by former Real Madrid defender and assistant coach Aitor Karanka knocked Manchester City out of the FA Cup and were only an epic penalty shootout away from doing the same to Liverpool in the Capital One Cup.
But Karanka has admitted that he faces a huge selection dilemma at Old Trafford, with his focus firmly on gaining promotion and a match with Charlton Athletic on Saturday.
“I think choosing who plays is one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make since I’ve been here because the aim is promotion,” he said, reports Middlesbrough’s official website. “But after our games in the cup last season we can’t forget the competition because we’re capable of beating big teams. I have to think really well because we have three players injured and another four with bookings so I can’t be stupid and forget the game on Saturday.”
Also coming into Karanka’s thinking will be the fact that he has four players -- Grant Leadbitter, Adam Clayton, Daniel Ayala and Diego Fabbrini -- who are just one yellow card away from a suspension that would take rule them out of Saturday’s league match.
Kickoff time: 4 p.m. EDT
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