MK Dons vs. Manchester United: How Red Devils Will Line Up in Capital One Cup
The key dilemma facing Louis van Gaal ahead of MK Dons vs. Manchester United in the Capital One Cup is how strong a team to put out.
On the one hand, risking losing yet another key player to injury to attempt to progress past a League One side, in a competition with relatively little prestige, seems dangerous.
On the other, the lack of European football on offer at Old Trafford this season means that United have fewer fronts on which to compete.
Early exit from the League Cup could be embarrassing for the new manager, and would mean less opportunity for squad rotation, and, of course, losing a chance of a trophy.
With that balancing act in mind, it is extremely difficult to guess what kind of side Van Gaal will play. Here is a look at some of the possibilities...
Van Gaal has already called upon members of last season's youth teams to serve in the first team. Jesse Lingard, Michael Keane and Tyler Blackett have all been given their league debuts by the Dutchman.
Given the profile of the League Cup, there may be further opportunities for those players coming through United's development system.
Reece James featured heavily in pre-season, and may well be in with a chance of a start here, especially given Ashley Young's less-than-stellar performances at wing-back in United's first two league games.
James Wilson, the striker who made such a spectacular impression with his brace in his United debut at the end of last season, could find himself in the starting XI if Van Gaal looks to favour youth.
Sam Johnstone or Ben Amos may well start in goal, given reports, per Jamie Jackson in the Guardian, that Anders Lindegaard is "seeking to leave Manchester United."
Other members of United's youth setup could be considered. Van Gaal might even wish to play an XI composed almost entirely of young players, as suggested on Twitter by Red Mancuncian podcast co-host @ManUnitedYouth.
@UtdRantcast Amos; Keane, Thorpe, Blackett; Varela, Pearson, Rothwell, James; Powell; Wilson, Welbeck. Ok, might be what I want to see...— Nick (@ManUnitedYouth) August 24, 2014
Shinji Kagawa has yet to feature in a competitive game for Van Gaal, and must surely be in consideration for a place in this game.
Danny Welbeck is reportedly keen on a move to Tottenham Hotspur, per David Kidd of the Daily Mirror. If Van Gaal is planning to try and keep him at Old Trafford, then a starting berth here would presumably help that cause.
Many United fans will hope Adnan Januzaj becomes a key part of Van Gaal's setup as the season progresses, but he is yet to start this season. For now he therefore warrants consideration as a "squad player." This game affords him a chance to play.
A front three of Kagawa, Januzaj and Wilson or Welbeck would be exciting to see.
Elsewhere in the squad, United are short on senior back-up options, and so there are fewer fringe players in need of game time than in previous seasons.
Marcos Rojo missed out on the opportunity to play against Sunderland as his work-permit paperwork had not been finalised. It is not yet clear whether he will be a regular in United's first team, but given United's defensive shortcomings, it seems fair to assume that—for now at least—he will be.
If the paperwork is arranged, he may get his debut in this game.
In central midfield, unless United play an extremely youth-oriented team, it seems likely that Darren Fletcher and Tom Cleverley will once again start, assuming Ander Herrera has not returned from injury.
I suspect that Antonio Valencia will play at right wing-back, given Van Gaal did not experiment with a defender from the youth team in the absence of Valencia and Rafael da Silva against Swansea City.
Given all the question marks about Van Gaal's potential approach, this may be miles wide off the mark, but here is a best guess at a starting XI. As always, do share yours in the comments.
Amos, Valencia, Blackett, Keane, Rojo, James, Fletcher, Cleverley, Kagawa, Januzaj, Wilson.