Over the last few seasons the Carling Cup has become a competition where most Premier League sides have fielded a bunch of their youth players and giving their first team players a rest. Usually this strategy works out just fine when teams are facing lower level opposition.
That is until yesterday, when Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester City were all eliminated during their first match. Making matters worse, Chelsea and Liverpool both lost at home, with Liverpool losing to a club not even in the Premier League.
Going through without a problem though was Manchester United, who traveled to Scunthorpe United and got a commanding 5-2 win. Over the last few weeks, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has come under criticism with his team selection.
In the match against Everton, complaints were that the team was too old, the following match, a Champions League tie with Rangers the team was too young. In this weeks match the boss (who was strangely absent from the match) got his team selection perfectly.
Manchester United, who usually have used this competition to give youngsters their debut seem to have changed their strategy over this competition. While they do let their youngsters play, the youngsters that played for them yesterday possessed a different quality then those that were fielded by other teams.
The starting XI that Manchester United played yesterday was a very experienced starting XI. One can argue that the only inexperienced player on the field was striker Federico Macheda, a man who all United fans are familiar with since he scored the winning goal against Aston Villa during his debut two seasons ago.
Manchester United's team included Darron Gibson, Anderson, and Rafael among the younger players, all three have made several appearances for the first team, and were using this game as less of a chance to make an impression, and more as a way of just getting match time in. Furthermore the team also included Michael Owen and Rio Ferdinand. Two players who are both looking to get back to full fitness after injuries.
What was more important for Manchester United is how they kept firing on all cylinders. Several times this season United have played players who seemed like they have never played with each other and it has taken them a while to get used to each other. The players seemed to mesh well for United yesterday and by the second half they were looking very dangerous.
Manchester United's strike partnership of Michael Owen and Federico Macheda looked very in attack yesterday. The two of them are not unfamiliar with each other as they played together several times during United's preseason tour of Asia last season, and often at least one of them found the net.
Macheda had several chance in front of the goal but it was Owen who stole the show. Owen, who has been out injured since last year's Carling Cup final has been struggling for match time this season. His two goals against Scunthorpe suggest that he is now back and ready to contribute for United.
The biggest advantage Manchester United had in playing a reserves team was allowing Ji Sung Park to play in a more attacking role. With the recent injury to Antonio Valencia, Park is going to be called upon more and more often to play down the wing. This will now go beyond Park's usual inclusion in games where Sir Alex needs him to be in a defensive role and just a hard worker.
Park will now need to step up and be more then a worker and provide an attacking threat. The rotation of the squad allowed Park to play in a match and get used to playing a more attacking role and he was rewarded with a goal. These are performances Park will need to replicate this coming season.
With Manchester United winning the last two Carling Cups, their young players have experience in the competition. Furthermore, they also have gained experienced by making several appearances in the Premier League. The mixture of older players and experienced younger players allowed Manchester United to avoid the fate of the other big clubs that fell on Wednesday.