carling cup final

O'Shea expecting youngsters to be tested

February 28, 2009

John O'Shea is expecting a much tougher Carling Cup battle against Tottenham than many are predicting.

GettyImages / ShaunBotterillO'Shea has become a vital part of the United squad.

Manchester United will start as clear favourites for the first domestic cup final of the season, with Tottenham still languishing near the Premier League's drop zone and lacking a number of key men, including cup-tied captain Robbie Keane.

Few give Spurs any chance of derailing United's bid for an unprecedented trophy five-timer at stage two, especially as the world club champions dismissed Harry Redknapp's men from the FA Cup last month with staggering ease given they had fallen behind.

But O'Shea is not buying into the theory that Spurs can be rolled over.

The Republic of Ireland international has been around long enough to know cup finals are rarely predictable affairs.

''We will be put down as clear favourites but it is going to be a lot tighter than people think,'' said O'Shea. ''They are the holders and like us, they know what it takes to win it and we know how pleasing it is. I am sure they will want to experience that again.''

Although it is three years since United achieved the last of their two solitary triumphs in the competition, they only need to trawl back nine months for their last final victory, that tense never-to-be-forgotten Champions League night in Moscow.

Now, as then, Sir Alex Ferguson will use his pre-match team-talk to implore his players not to waste the opportunity in front of them.

''He always tells us cup finals don't come around too often,'' revealed O'Shea. ''You never know what happens in your career. It could be your last one so you must make sure you try to win it.''

Given United's dominance of the English game just now, it is difficult to envisage them going too long without reaching another final.

The same is not true of individual players, some of whom are in the process of proving to Ferguson they have a long-term future at Old Trafford.

Danny Welbeck and, more obviously, Darron Gibson fall into that category.

For Gibson it could be the most crucial afternoon of his entire career. Little wonder he has been trying to ignore it.

''I haven't thought too much about Wembley because if I did I think I might too nervous,'' Gibson said. ''I don't want the occasion to get the better of me so not thinking about it is the best way of coping.''

But O'Shea will also be on hand to offer support, not just to his international colleague but also to Welbeck.

After all, it was only six years ago that the Waterford-born defender experienced a final atmosphere for the first time, as a non-playing substitute in the defeat by Liverpool at the Millennium Stadium, one of four losses United have suffered at the last hurdle of the competition.

''You have to try to soak the atmosphere up fairly quickly,'' said O'Shea. ''The young lads have shown the talent to go and express themselves on such a big stage and really enjoy it.

''But friends and family will be there and the whole thing can bypass you a little bit.

''That is where the experience of the manager and older players comes in to make sure everyone is settled and calm. We want the young ones to deal with the nerves and show how good they are.''

With Gary Neville set to miss out, Ferguson must decide whether to utilise O'Shea at right-back and bring in either Patrice Evra or Rio Ferdinand, or trust the untested abilities of Fabio Da Silva, Rafael's brother.

As Anderson's fitness after a recent ankle injury may only be at a level to take a seat on the bench, Paul Scholes is set to partner Gibson.

Scholes surprisingly has never been a League Cup winner, with a serious eye injury ruling him out of the 2006 hammering of Wigan.

Victory would represent the second step towards an unprecedented 'quintuple' for United.

The subject - or word - is not something that gets discussed at United's Carrington training complex. But when pushed, O'Shea cannot see why it should not become a reality.

''It is not bringing us any extra pressure,'' he smiled. ''If we did lose the Carling Cup final and still won a treble, people wouldn't be crying about it. But winning breeds confidence, this is the next one in a possibility of a five trophies. We have a talented team, why not?''