Manchester United host Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup tonight coming off of back-to-back draws.
The League Cup match up sees ex-Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid centre back, Aitor Karanka return to Old Trafford for the third time in his career, but his first as a manager.
As a player, he participated in all 180 minutes for Real Madrid in their 0-0 home draw and 2-3 away win against Manchester United. This took place in the Champions League Quarter Finals in 2000.
Karanka then returned to Old Trafford as José’s assistant coach in 2013. Once again, the two teams drew at the Bernabéu, this time 1-1, and Real Madrid won the return leg at Old Trafford.
The Los Blancos victory in Manchester will be best remembered by United fans as the one where Turkish referee, Cüneyt Çakır (who is an insurance salesman, and has never reffed a game that United have won), very questionably sent off Nani.
Çakır fell for the dramatisation and rolling around of Álvaro Arbeloa and sent off United’s Portuguese winger. This was whilst the Red Devils were 1-0 up (2-1agg) and the game was very close. The sending off ruined the match and handed Madrid the win.
Now Karanka returns to Old Trafford unbeaten in 4 encounters with Manchester United, but this time he’s bringing a team that’s 20 places behind the Red Devils.
Middlesbrough are 4th in the Championship and won their game at the weekend 3-1, away to Wolverhampton Wanderers. Prior to that win Boro had drawn 1 and lost 2.
United haven’t lost to Boro since 29/10/05, just a day shy of being exactly 10 years ago. Since that win the two teams have met 10 times. They have resulted in 4 draws and 6 wins to Manchester United.
Middlesbrough top scorer, Cristhian Stuani, could miss the cup tie through injury. The Uruguayan has 7 goals and an assist in his 11 games since transferring for £2.8 million, from RCD Espanyol, this summer.
Stuani sustained his injury during the international break and has not featured since. His manager was not happy with his top striker being returned broken:
“Cristhian has come back injured from his trip.
“I can now understand the managers who are always complaining about the national teams.”
United’s opponents made signed two Premier League players on permanent deals this summer. Leicester City striker David Nugent and West Ham United midfielder Stewart Downing came to Rockliffe Park.
Nugent only has 1 goal in his 5 games against the Red Devils, but Downing has a career best of 6 assists in his 27 match ups against the Manchester side.
The big question lies on who they will start in goal. In the Championship, Greek net minder Dimitrios Konstantopoulos has played every game and is performing very well. In the 36 year old’s 13 games, he has only conceded 9 goals in the high scoring league, and has kept 5 clean sheets.
But in the League Cup, ex-Real Madrid keeper Tomás Mejías has played all 3 games. The 6’4’’ Spaniard has kept a clean sheet and conceded twice in the cup.
Middlesbrough’s manager, being an ex-defender, enforces defensive play and does not allow his team to leave themselves exposed at the back. It’s very possible that they’ll come to Old Trafford and try to frustrate Manchester United in their own half, then break away to create their own chances.
United’s challenge depends very much on who they play. Yesterday Sheffield Wednesday shocked Arsenal with a 3-0 win at Hillsborough. The Gunners had even fielded many first team players such as: Čech, Mertesacker, Debuchy, Gibbs, Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott and Giroud.
Louis van Gaal must make sure that he doesn’t underestimate the Championship side, but so far in the cup he has fielded his top players with a few youngsters being included as well, such as Ander Pereira.
The Dutch manager appears to be set on winning some silverware this season so will go for the win in this game. United could easily win this match 3-0 if they keep up their solid defensive performances.
The game kicks off tonight at 20:00.