MANCHESTER, England, November 29 – Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will use Wednesday’s League Cup tie with Crystal Palace to give fans a glimpse into the future – despite failing to win the last two games.
United have left themselves with work to do to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League and lost ground in the title race after failing to beat Benfica and Newcastle in the last week.
But Ferguson intends to rest key players and instead put his faith in the club’s youngsters as four-times winners United look to advance to the semi-finals of the competition.
The likes of Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Nani – who all featured in the 1-1 draw with Newcastle at the weekend – are likely to be given the night off ahead of Saturday’s trip to Aston Villa.
Instead 18-year-old Frenchman Paul Pogba could make his first senior start in midfield alongside fellow teenager Ravel Morrison.
England defender Chris Smalling, who has recently recovered from a cracked bone in his foot, will be one of the few senior players in action, while fringe players like Mame Biram Diouf and Federico Macheda are also set to make an appearance.
“There will be complete changes,” said Ferguson.
“Chris Smalling has come back and I may be able to play him. He’s still young and it’ll be a young squad against Palace.
“The only area where I’ve got problems is centre midfield. It’s possible I could play Pogba in there but we’ll wait and see. I’ve got enough players to choose from, that’s for sure.”
United last won the League Cup in 2010 when they defeated Aston Villa at Wembley.
And Ferguson has made it clear he is keen to get his hands on it again even though the competition is behind the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup in terms of the club’s list of priorities.
“I think the League Cup has turned into quite a good tournament,” he added. “Clubs like United are able to introduce young players and ones who have not been playing regularly in the first team, and it’s been good to us over the years.
“We’ve won two finals at Wembley with young players, which is good going, and I think it’s become an important tournament for us in terms of getting the youngsters an introduction into winning and having an understanding of the progress they’re making.”
Palace, currently 10th in England’s second-tier, have already overcome Premier League opposition in the competition this season in the shape of Wigan.
Written off by many as relegation candidates, Dougie Freedman’s side have proved to be one of the surprise sides in the Championship and while they have slipped towards mid-table, they remain just one point off the play-off places.
Financial constraints have forced Freedman to place his faith in youth with forward Wilfried Zaha and full back Nathaniel Clyne both catching the eye of bigger clubs.
The manager believes the high profile trip to Old Trafford will encourage the latest stage of his players’ development, but maintains Palace are certainly not heading north simply for the experience of facing Ferguson’s team.
“When you go to United, you can’t think ahead to the following game, you’ve got to go for it,” he said.
“We’ll pick our best team and hopefully get a result. As a professional, you train day in and day out for this type of occasion.
However, if they are to cause a surprise and progress into the last four they will have to break a barren run that has seen them fail to score for 485 minutes.