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.
It’s difficult to find top defenders. You’ve seen how much it cost Manchester City to sign Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy – two right-backs and one left-back – and how much they had to spend on John Stones.
With Vincent Kompany still being in and out they’ve got problems in the middle of their defence.
Liverpool have Joel Matip but I don’t think they’ve got enough strength there to win the title. Every centreback partnership they have seems ill-equipped for a title push and after the deal for Virgil van Dijk fell through, they had no Plan B.
In the market I think Tottenham have done the best acquisitions in Europe in terms of prospects, Davinson Sanchez and Juan Foyth. The reason why it’s so hard to find quality defenders is because of what the academies are focusing on producing.
Since the era of social media, all the publicity goes to the tricks and step-overs and taking on people on-on-one – even the fullbacks are attacking more than they are defending.
In general, the focus is on this and it is just natural for the players growing up to be more concerned about ‘how can I beat this player?’ – even the defenders.
The art of defending is not something as recognised anymore. It is hard to sign players who are proper defenders like in the old days because it’s not fashionable.
Premier League teams are finding it very hard to defend against Manchester United and City but they’ve got really high quality going forward.
There are two elements – the individual talents and the collective play going forward. Both Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola recognise that in the Premier League, the transition going forward is to be quick because that’s what the English culture demands.
They are really good at it because they’ve got great passers of the ball and intelligent players, and when you’ve got wingers and finishers who can win one-on-one, two-on-one, which is the case for both of them, you can break any defence and create chances.
You can’t ‘park the bus’ against them, but you don’t want to defend too high up the pitch. Try to form your two lines of four in front of them as much as you can, but the aim of the game is to score goals as well.
It’s easy to say that, but much harder to realise. There’s too many good players to focus on. There’s not one man you have to stop them, it’s three or four.
Paulo Dybala has already scored 10 goals for Juventus this season.
He’s showing a lot of character because of the expectation of playing for Juve and the pressure that goes with wearing the No10 shirt after Michel Platini, Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero.
If he stays another 10 years at Juve, he could also be in that world-class bracket. He may move to the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid, but it depends because Serie A is strong with the two Milan teams back in the race – with Roma and Napoli remaining dangerous, you could have an attractive league.
Juve has enough money to hold on to Dybala, it’s just a question of reaching targets with Juve –the Champions League, which they are failing to do.
If Juve give him the sense they are really going for it by buying the world’s top players, it would be fantastic for him to stay there. Juve, certainly in terms of history and legacy, are as good as Real and Barcelona.
Ousmane Dembele has been ruled out of action with a hamstring injury for four months, and for me it is a consequence of his situation in the summer.
With Borussia Dortmund he was not going to training, going through a lot of stress, and then straight into training at Barcelona.
He was trying to play catch-up with the team and go through a pre-season in 10 days that he wasn’t able to do in Germany.
I think he was unfortunate, but it wasn’t the ideal preparation. Will he bounce back? Yes I think he will, it’s a serious injury but he can overcome it.
The question is will he have enough to impact on Barcelona’s title charge and also with the France team. That’s his first big injury and as a young player it’s difficult to deal with.
Hopefully, Barcelona will take care of him because it will be a long process.
Ander Herrera says Manchester City’s summer spending makes them Premier League favourites, with Pep Guardiola’s trophyless first season meaning they currently have a greater obligation to win titles than Manchester United.
The Manchester rivals have shone in the opening weeks of the 2017-18 season, with the teams joint atop of the table with a haul of 13 points and plus-14 goal difference.
United certainly look far better than the toothless side that stuttered home in sixth last season, although Europa League, EFL Cup and Community Shield glory was a decent return in Jose Mourinho’s first campaign at the helm.
City ended third in the Premier League after a fine start under Guardiola petered out in an ultimately trophyless campaign – something that United midfielder Herrera suggests has increased the pressure at the Etihad Stadium, as has their free-spending summer.
“Man City have spent the biggest amount in the Premier League so they are the principle contenders for the title,” he said.
“We will try to be there as well, we have quality as well, and we will fight for every title. But I think because of the money they have spent they are the favourites.
“We will try to be there but they have spent the biggest money in the league.
“There is always pressure when you spend a lot but there is also pressure on us because we are the biggest club in England.
“We won three titles last season and City didn’t win anything. They are under pressure.
“They are obligated to win titles. We won three last season so they have more obligation than us.
“But you know when you play for Man United wining is an expectation and an obligation but I like that obligation to be honest.”
United kick off their defence of the EFL Cup against Burton on Wednesday, when Sergio Romero may well get his first run out of the season in place of the ever-impressive David De Gea.
Another summer of speculation did not bring about a move to Real Madrid, but the 26-year-old does not seem unsettled and produced another fine display in Sunday’s 4-0 defeat of Everton.
Herrera believes De Gea is the best goalkeeper in the world right now – “it is a gift from God,” he said of his compatriot – and hopes they play together at United for years to come.