The early rounds of the League Cup – rechristened this season as the Carabao Cup – have always been viewed by the bigger clubs as an opportunity to rest their stars and play some of their fringe players and youngsters.
Sir Alex Ferguson made this practice popular by playing a “weakened” side against Port Vale in 1994 – a side that included a young trio of David Beckham, Gary Neville, and Paul Scholes.
Twenty three years later, to the week, and United face Championship side Burton Albion on Wednesday night, and there’s no doubt that Jose Mourinho will shuffle his pack.
With some players yet to get first-team minutes this season and others on the comeback trail from injury, the third-round fixture is the perfect setting for the United manager to test his squad’s depth.
Here are three United players likely to get on the Old Trafford pitch on Wednesday night.
Mourinho said Shaw’s recovery from a foot injury suffered in April is complete, and the young Englishman has played three times for United’s U23 side in a bid to regain match fitness. Tellingly, he was left out of the U23 squad which drew 2-2 with Chelsea on Monday night, a sign that Shaw is in Mourinho’s plans for the cup fixture.
There are indications that the 22-year-old could start the game, but given his injury history over the last couple of seasons Mourinho could be excused for exorcising some caution and easing him back into the first team with a cameo appearance.
Angel Gomes became the youngest-ever player to appear in a Premier League game for Manchester United when, at 16 years and 263 days old, he came on for Wayne Rooney in the team’s final league fixture of last season.
Since then, Gomes, now 17, has been lighting up the U18s league, emerging as the standout performer for United’s academy side.
A Carabao Cup encounter against lower-league opposition (albeit a Burton side only one tier below United) seems like the perfect fixture to give the youngster another taste of first-team action.
The 20-year-old Scott McTominay made two Premier League appearances towards the end of last season, and has since been promoted to the senior squad, being handed a first-team number this season. Incidentally, his number 39 is the same number Marcus Rashford wore when he first made the step up to the first team.
With Paul Pogba injured, Mourinho will want to protect his other midfielders – Nemanja Matic has started every game this season and Marouane Fellaini may get a rest, especially as he recently suffered an injury which caused him to miss United’s 2-2 draw at Stoke City earlier this month.
This could be the perfect opportunity to give McTominay first-team minutes alongside a seasoned performer such as Michael Carrick, who has yet to make an appearance this season.