Man United and City face old rivals with older legs
Usually the competition to break in youngsters, the League Cup will give Manchester rivals United and City a chance to utilise older players this week.
Injury-plagued Owen Hargreaves could make his first appearance for City since a surprising switch across Manchester after being released by United.
The 30-year-old midfielder has failed to complete a match in the last three years, but is set to have a chance to prove he is clear of the knee problems that have blighted his recent career when City face Birmingham on Wednesday.
“I need to speak with Owen and on Tuesday we will decide if he will play, but he probably will,” City manager Roberto Mancini said. “He has been in full training but he is not 100%. He could play maybe 30 to 45 minutes.”
City, who won the League Cup in 1976, host the defending champions in the third round after seeing a perfect start to the Premier League season end with a draw at Fulham on Sunday.
And despite City owner Sheikh Mansour investing more than a $1-billion in three years, Mancini is complaining about deficiencies in the squad.
“We are lacking at this moment because we lost two midfielders,” Mancini said.
“I don’t have players at the moment. I can only change the full backs. I have only two midfielders because James [Milner] and [Nigel] de Jong have injuries.”
Crosstown rivals United has the opposite problem: making use of the array of talent at manager Alex Ferguson’s disposal.
After packing the first team with youngsters, United have opened their Premier League title defence with five wins.
Such early success has prevented Michael Owen from making an appearance, but the 31-year-old striker is set to be deployed against second-tier club Leeds on Tuesday.
There could also be a place in the team for Ryan Giggs, the 37-year-old midfielder who did not play in the 3-1 victory over Chelsea on Sunday.
Leeds were one of United’s fiercest rivals until they dropped out of the Premier League in 2004. But Simon Grayson’s side upset United in the third round of the FA Cup in 2010 while still a third-division side.
“Won’t be no ordinary Carling Cup clash,” Owen tweeted. “Huge rivalry. Can’t wait.”
Finding the right mixture
Arsenal’s match against fourth-tier side Shrewsbury should be providing a welcome distraction from its worst start to a topflight campaign since 1953/54. But the start of Arsenal’s current difficulties can be traced back to losing in last season’s League Cup final against Birmingham.
Going into the February final at Wembley Stadium, the Gunners were in contention for four trophies but they missed out on each of them to prolong a trophy drought stretching back to 2005.
Arsenal’s 4-3 collapse at Blackburn on Saturday left Arsene Wenger’s side with just three Premier League wins since that League Cup final.
“When you lose, it is always important to have a response,” Arsenal defender Johan Djourou said. “Even if it is at home in the Carling Cup, we want to win so we need a big response on Tuesday.
“We have to bounce back because we have another game and we have to be ready for those. We are disappointed but there is still a long way to go and things are not over yet.”
South Korea captain Park Chu-young and Japanese forward Ryo Miyaichi are set to make their Arsenal debuts.
“I will try to find a good mixture between youth and experience,” Wenger said.
Liverpool will also hope to respond from a Premier League setback in England’s second-tier knockout competition. The Reds are at League Championship club Brighton on Wednesday fresh from a 4-0 loss at Tottenham.
In all-Premier League clashes on Wednesday, Chelsea host west London rivals Fulham and West Bromwich Albion are at Everton.
On Tuesday, Hatem Ben Arfa is set to make his first competitive appearance since breaking his left leg last October when Newcastle play at Nottingham Forest.
In other matches involving Premier League teams on Tuesday, Tottenham are at Stoke, Wolverhampton Wanderers face Millwall, Blackburn take on Leyton Orient and Aston Villa host Bolton.
United States midfielder Stuart Holden will make his first appearance for Bolton after six months out with a knee injury.
“Stuart Holden will start, which is another boost, and we’ll see how far he’s progressed,” Bolton manager Owen Coyle said.—Sapa-AP