“IF YOU want to win it (the Carabao Cup), you have to beat the best,” is what Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer declared after the draw for the fourth round was made.
And so United travel to London this evening, to face Chelsea. Because of United’s injury record though, their testing start to the season, and with a busy winter of fixtures to come, it’s a bit of a surprise to see Solskjaer take such a strong squad with him.
At this point in time, the league cup should probably be used as nothing more than a run-out for several of his youngsters.
The Norwegian’s squad isn’t big enough to cope with the number of games in the Europa League, and Premier League, never mind an additional cup competition.
Solskjaer has recently spoken about the importance of the Europa League in his quest to qualify for the Champions League next season, and although his side are on the brink of qualifying for the knockout stages of that competition, they have some serious ground to make up in the Premier League, having only moved back into the top half of the table last weekend.
A lot has happened since the team’s last clash on the opening weekend of the Premier League season and United’s 4-0 thrashing of Frank Lampard’s team.
FOR OLD TIMES’ SAKE
Chelsea currently sit in fourth place in the Premier League table with 20 points from their opening 10 games, already seven ahead of United.
And that’s where Solskjaer priority should be, because in comparison United have endured their worst start to a season for 30 years.
Even with a stronger squad than predicted, United will go into the tie later on as underdogs.
Lampard also has previous league cup success against United to call upon, having masterminded Derby County’ victory at Old Trafford last season.
United’s teenage sensation Mason Greenwood scored in United’s 2-1 win against Doncaster in the U21 Leasing.com Trophy on Tuesday night, which is as a surprise to some who thought he might have started at Stamford Bridge.
Tahith Chong, another who has played for the first team this season, and could well have benefitted from a more testing challenge against Chelsea, also played.
United’s brittle squad may have turned a bit of a corner since the 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United, but what Solskjaer doesn’t want is for people to start pointing the finger at him and questioning his ability to prioritise which games to play his strongest XI.
Certain managers will say different and publicly declare “that every game is a must-win,” but United have more pressing priorities than an unlikely cup run.
With City and Liverpool still in the hat, the chances of Solskjaer leading his team to cup glory are slim.
Solskjaer should have recognised this in earlier weeks and decided that saving players for bigger Premier League challenges, should have taken preference.
Losing this evening would be a disappointment, but I still think that most fans would swap it for three points at Bournemouth on Saturday.