Perfect pairing for landmark League Cup clash

LONDON - There could hardly be a more apt pairing for the 50th League Cup final on Sunday than a meeting between holders Manchester United and Aston Villa, the first winners of the quirky little three-handled cup.

Villa, who beat Rotherham United over two legs to win the inaugural competition in 1960/61, have won the League Cup five times compared to United's three, with one of those coming against United in 1994.

With both teams doing well in the Premier League, their presence at Wembley Stadium could make the Golden Jubilee final a memorable one, especially if United manager Alex Ferguson selects in-form Wayne Rooney to start.

Rooney was on the sidelines when United beat Tottenham Hotspur on penalties to win last season's final, and is currently in a blistering run of form, scoring 19 goals in his last 19 matches, and 27 in all this season.

Ferguson however, implied Rooney might have to be content with a place on the bench as he considers the team to win the 44th major trophy of his career. United have other targets besides the League Cup.

His choice has been hampered by a spate of injuries and he will be unable to select Rio Ferdinand (back), Ryan Giggs (broken arm), or Brazilian midfielder Anderson, who was ruled out for the rest of the season after rupturing a cruciate ligament in Tuesday's 3-0 win over West Ham United.


Asked about his team selection on Thursday, Ferguson told reporters at a news briefing: "I'm thinking about the younger ones. There's two or three that come into that category like Darron Gibson, Jonny Evans and Rafa Da Silva.

"They have to be considered. But we want to win the cup. It would be nice to win the cup having got there.

"Being at Wembley is an occasion and we have got this opportunity of winning something. The only way you can enjoy Wembley is by winning - it's not a nice day if you lose."

Villa manager Martin O'Neill's name is always close to the top of the list when the discussion turns to the eventual successor to 68-year-old Ferguson at United, and victory over them on Sunday would enhance his chances if he was interested in the job.

O'Neill has his eye on a Wembley double after his side beat Crystal Palace 3-1 on Wednesday to secure an FA Cup quarter-final against Reading next weekend.

He is seeking his third victory as a coach in the League Cup after guiding Leicester City to success in 1997 and 2000 as well as losing the final in 1999.

Villa are also involved in the race for fourth place in the Premier League and a potential Champions League spot next season and Ferguson was full of praise for the job O'Neill has done.

"You think about the team he inherited and the team he has got now, it's totally different in every department.

"He has brought a consistency to them. This could be a successful season for them. It is going to be a very difficult game for us."

O'Neill has yet to name his side for Wembley but is set to recall goalkeeper Brad Friedel, Emile Heskey and James Collins, who were all on the bench against Palace.