Middlesbrough will have to beat Manchester United’s best XI if they are to advance into the fourth round of the Capital One Cup, according to Aitor Karanka.
Boro take on the Red Devils at Old Trafford tonight (kick off 8pm), looking to build on the 3-1 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers at the weekend and claim their second Manchester scalp of the calendar year.
It was back in January that Boro beat Manchester City 2-0 in the FA Cup fourth round, and the Teessiders will be drawing on memories of that afternoon at the Etihad ahead of the game with United.
Karanka, however, believes that United manager Louis van Gaal won’t rest key players – despite his side fighting on the Premier League and Champions League front.
“I’m sure they are going to play with their best because Van Gaal likes to win everything and for them the cup is another title. He wants to win,” Karanka told BBC Tees.
“If you look at the Ipswich game (who Man Utd beat in the third round), they played with the best and I’m expecting the best.
“I think they are improving. They’ve signed another two or three players and the manager is a top manager.
“They have not just 11 but 20 amazing players.”
Who will line up for Boro isn’t as predictable, however.
“I think it’s one of the most difficult decisions since I’ve been here because of the aim to get promotion,” Karanka said.
“But there were games last season (in the cup) when we beat big teams and we can’t forget the cup.
“For this reason I have to think really well.
“I can’t be stupid and forget the game on Saturday and also forget we played three games in one week. Some players need a rest
That win at City, though, as well as the dramatic draw at Anfield when Liverpool won 14-13 on penalties early last season in the same competition, will make United cautious of promotion-seeking Boro.
“It is an amazing game for everybody, in the same way when we played Liverpool last season,” Karanka added.
“It was the game that put us on the map again and I said I wanted those games for the crowd.
“After those three games (including the 2-0 FA Cup defeat at Arsenal) everyone knows how good Middlesbrough is.
“Man United know they are playing against a good team, and we play well against good teams.
“I’m hoping for a good game for everybody and hopefully we can beat them.”
Meanwhile, Hartlepool-born Middlesbrough midfielder Bryn Morris has joined managerless York City on a month-long loan deal.
The 19-year-old will go straight into the squad for Saturday’s trip to Crawley Town. Morris has captained England at Under-16 up to Under-20 levels.