There was a time in Liverpool’s pomp when they called the League Cup the Mickey Mouse Cup, so breezily did they view it, but those with long memories at Manchester United have a different view of it, based on the events of a decade ago.
In the winter of the 2005/06 season the club, when the club were struggling to come to terms with the swagger of Jose Mourinho’s newly-monied Chelsea, Sir Alex Ferguson suddenly stopped fielding his reserves in the competition and began to view it as an opportunity to win something and bring some pride back. “It’s a great competition,” he said after Blackburn Rovers had been despatched in the semi-final that year. “The Carling Cup represents a great opportunity to mark the season as a successful one. I’m delighted to be in the final.”
One fans website at the time described the competition as “a $50 hooker compared to the supermodels we used to date”, but when United beat Wigan Athletic 4-0 in the final, the shackles were lifted. It was the launch-pad to a renewed period of United dominance.
The situation is similar on Wednesday night, as the side go back into battle against West Ham United, after a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford on Sunday which left the side with statistically their worst start to a league season for 27 years with just 20 points from 13 games.
Though meaningful title discussions cannot be had in late November, the notion of Jose Mourinho strolling into Manchester and immediately clinching the big domestic prize seems already to be remote. This competition could offer salvation and though the presence of Liverpool in the semi-finals presents an obstacle, United could find a way to get a winning habit back. They will fear neither Hull City, who have also progressed, and both Arsenal and Southampton, who contest the other quarter, seem beatable.
United will be without midfielder Paul Pogba, who collected his fifth booking of the season on Sunday in the incident which led to Mourinho being sent to the stands for the second time this season. Yet when the side last ventured into EFL Cup action under a cloud – at Northampton Town, on the back of defeats to Watford and Manchester City – it provided an opportunity for the players who had found themselves excluded. Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera were both excellent that night.
The suspension of Marouane Fellaini, as well as Pogba, could actually open the door for Bastian Schweinsteiger on Wednesday, after he was recalled to the bench at the weekend. Wayne Rooney can also expect a starting role and as he is now one goal short of equalling Sir Bobby Charlton's club record goal tally of 249, the game presents another chance to remind United of their status and the greats who have gone before.
In the background details of the final against Wigan in 2006 there are reminders of the storms that can hover over a club of United’s status and yet soon pass on. The pre-match press conference saw The Times barred because Sir Alex Ferguson was offended by them questioning why the club had paid £7.2m for Nemanja Vidic. Ancient history now and Mourinho knows that lifting this trophy can do the same for Old Trafford a decade on.Reuse content