Sir Alex Ferguson has long used the Carling Cup as a testing ground for his budding young talents and two, in particular, will be under scrutiny as Manchester United begin their defence of the trophy at Old Trafford this evening.
Ferguson has high hopes for Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda, but the United manager has warned that the 18-year-old strikers need to get their priorities right as they prepare for their first run-outs of the season in the third-round tie against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Macheda burst on to the scene at a vital stage last season, the Italian coming off the substitutes’ bench to score a decisive late goal on his debut in United’s 3-2 victory at home to Aston Villa in April and following that up with another winning strike away to Sunderland.
The Manchester-born Welbeck also impressed, scoring three times in eight starts in all competitions last season, including a powerful 30-yard strike on his league debut in the 5-0 thrashing of Stoke City at Old Trafford in November.
However, while Ferguson denied that the plaudits had gone to the heads of either player, the manager suggested that Macheda and Welbeck had lost some of their focus after regular call-ups to the Italy and England Under-21 squads respectively.
“Welbeck has been called away so much with every single England squad [the Under-19s and Under-21s] that I don’t know if he is our player or their player,” Ferguson said. “Macheda has been away with the Italy youth teams all the time and has hardly been with us, either. They are away that much with the youth squads, they have forgotten where their real place is.”
Michael Owen, fresh from his stoppage-time winning goal in the 4-3 victory at home to Manchester City on Sunday, is likely to start up front against Wolves with Macheda alongside him and Welbeck expected to offer support from the left wing.
Tomasz Kuszczak is expected to start in goal, with Ben Foster rested and Edwin van der Sar still recovering from a broken finger.