Newcastle United head to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United in the third round of the Football League Cup on Wednesday. Last time these teams met back in January, Newcastle defeated the Red Devils 3-0 on the strength of goals by Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye, and an own goal from Phil Jones. I'm under a time constraint, so I'll match the expected effort of the two clubs by only doing a three-point preview today.
Manchester United will be no more motivated to win this fixture than Newcastle, having played at Liverpool on Sunday while looking forward to a home date with Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday. At least the Toon's surrounding league fixtures were with Norwich City and Reading. Manchester also have a Champions League match on October 2 to contend with, while Newcastle has two extra days before they have to worry about Bordeaux in the Europa League.
All that to say that this should have the look and feel of a reserves match. There has been some speculation that Papiss Cisse's early exit after missing a penalty against Norwich could point to a pallet-cleansing start for him. We know that he's not broken - see his amazing header in the AFCON qualifying match against Cote d'Ivoire - so perhaps a positive performance could set his mind right. Elsewhere, I'd expect Pardew to pull a reverse of what he did at Maritimo and replace most of the back line so they can finally get some rest. Some combination of Shane Ferguson, James Tavernier, James Perch (or Mike Williamson), and the debut of Curtis Good in front of Rob Elliot sounds about right. Cisse could play up top alone or with support from Adam Campbell, with the midfield being anybody's guess. Let's call it Gabriel Obertan against his former team, Haris Vuckic, Gael Bigirimana, and Sylvain Marveaux - all players who did well last week in Portugal.
2. Do NUFC even want to win?
There's a case to be made for not wanting to advance in this competition. Newcastle are stretched enough as it is, so tanking the League Cup wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Round 4 fixtures take place during the week of October 29 (so probably on Halloween). Currently they are scheduled to host West Bromwich Albion on the 28th and then travel to Liverpool on November 4. Add in what is basically a double-header with Club Brugge on the 25th and 8th and you've already got a full calendar. (Not to mention that the Brugge matches are probably the two they'll most need to win to advance.) Is ensuring a trip to Bradford City really going to be worth the trouble?
On the other hand, I'm always wary of what taking a lackadaisical approach to any match can do to the collective psyche of a team. Athletes are emotionally fragile creatures, and sometimes when the competitive switch is turned off it has to be warmed up before it's turned back on. I'm more than okay with fielding a weakened side, but I'll be disappointed if Pardew plays a negative tactic. Perhaps the best approach in this situation is to encourage the players to go for broke and take risks. If they pay off and the team moves on, at least some guys left the stadium with more confidence than when they arrived. If not, at least they went down swinging. Sometimes these matches end up being very high scoring as a result, but since I've written that, it's sure to end up 1-0 after extra time.
3. Europa League Tryouts?
We've already seen through three Europa League matches that Alan Pardew is more than willing to rest his regulars in favor of reserves, as he will on Wednesday. Perhaps Pards will dangle a carrot in his pre-match speech on Wednesday: show me something today and you'll win a spot in the XI when Bordeaux come to town. Provided they play, I'd expect to see inspired performances from young players like Ferguson, Good, Vuckic, and the like. This reinforces what I said in the preceding paragraph. The players on the pitch may not be first-rate, but they'll be fighting tooth and nail for every inch of space. If you're thinking about skipping this one, reconsider. It stands to be a thrill of a ride.