Manchester United host Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup at Old Trafford, and Louis van Gaal will be expecting his men to progress through to the quarter finals.
In the third round at home to Ipswich Town, van Gaal put out a very strong side to see off the Championship outfit and Middlesbrough are riding high in the same division, so a similar approach can be expected. Unless, of course, he just had a bone to pick with Mick McCarthy.
With Chelsea and Arsenal crashing out, and even high flying Leicester City, then an opportunity has opened up in the League cup. However, there is a long way to go before talking about winning the trophy, as Manchester City, Liverpool, Southampton and Everton (who qualified for the quarter finals) are all still in the competition. So it's one step at a time, but the fact that he is taking the competition seriously suggests he is all out to win it. If he gets things right and secured the trophy, would that be considered success should no others titles follow?
Winning is not getting easier
In any era, even in this competitions infancy in the 60's, winning a trophy was not to be sneered at. A trip to Wembley, winning a trophy on that hallowed turf, was an accomplishment. In this day and age, for the top clubs, the Premier League League and Champions League are the be all and end all, but the times they are a changing. It is never easy to win a trophy, but in England now it is getting harder and harder due to the influx of money. With next years TV revenue due to go through the roof, don't think that the establishment will continue to rule the roost.
In recent years, Birmingham City and Swansea City have lifted the trophy aloft. Even Wigan Athletic, now in the third tier, won the FA Cup in 2013 so whilst the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City have also tasted success in the domestic cups recently, it is no easy feat. And for that reason, a sole trophy in the form of the Capital One Cup would not go down as the greatest season in United's history, it would be a further step in the right direction and definitely something to cheer about.
Success breeds success
In 2006, when United faced Wigan in the League Cup final, United had finished potless the year before. Under Sir Alex Ferguson, that was a rare thing. They had gone two years without winning the League, so the phrase "transitional period" that is so often used these days, was definitely the case at the time. United triumphed handsomely 4-0, but there was more to it than a wide margin victory in the competition.
The final substitutions that Ferguson made that day had a big impact on three players futures. Nemanja Vidic and and Patrice Evra, who had both been at the club a matter of months were given playing time and secured their first of many honours to come. Ruud van Nistelrooy, probably the finest United striker since Denis Law, was made to watch the whole match from the bench and that would be the beginning of the end for him. United never won the League that year, but with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney maturing, this was now becoming a proper United team once more.
In the period between 2004 and 2006 United failed to win the League and picked up just one FA and League Cup, but the 2006 success led to one of United most successful periods in their history winning three League titles back to back and the Champions League in 2008. It can't be underestimated that when a group of players taste success they get hungry for more, and van Gaal seems to be going all out to ensure United find success in one form or another this season.
van Gaal needs a trophy
There is no suggestion that a trophy would be a catalyst for the kind of domination enjoyed under Sir Alex, but it has to be one of his main aims. His first season was considered successful, yet that amounted to a fourth placed finish. Champions League qualification was seen as a stepping stone, and a marked improvement on the previous year under David Moyes. This year, some silverware on top of a top four place is where the bar is set. That means playing the first team. No room for the kids, or at least not in any great quantity.
Against Ipswich, only Andreas Pereira was used as an academy graduate, and although he may be joined by Jesse Lingard, since the Ipswich game Lingard has started a Champions League game and may two League appearances and can be considered first team material. Marouane Fellaini, Daley Blind and Michael Carrick could all possibly come in against 'Boro and van Gaal is right to choose experience over youth, as 'Boro come into the game in fine form.
It is not inconceivable that United can win more than the League Cup, or at least one of the more prestigious trophies as they are going in the right direction under van Gaal. They are fourth in the League, only two points behind the leaders, and Champions League progress is in their own hands. They are tough to beat, but they are still looking like a work in progress. Wayne Rooney's form has been patchy, and the forward areas are where the biggest question marks remain. However, with David De Gea back in goal, a defence containing a transformed Chris Smalling looking very solid, and a set of midfielders that dominate proceedings they are certainly going to be in the mix when the gongs are handed out. A trophy in February would be a good start.