LONDON (AFP) – Louis van Gaal’s cup tour of England reaches the university city of Cambridge on Friday when he takes Manchester United to face Cambridge United in the FA Cup fourth round.
The United manager was dealt a rude awakening on his first visit to one of English football’s backwaters in August, when he saw a second-string side humiliated 4-0 by third-tier Milton Keynes Dons in the League Cup.
But United fared better against third-division opposition in the FA Cup earlier this month, winning 2-0 at Yeovil Town, and in fourth-tier Cambridge they face the lowest-ranked team left in the competition.
It is 11 years since United last won the competition and eight since they last reached the final, and midfielder Juan Mata, who won the trophy with Chelsea in 2012, is eager for another trip to Wembley.
In a blog published on the United website, the Spain international wrote: “Now it’s time for the FA Cup. This is a competition that I like very much as I have said here many times.
“Perhaps it is because I was lucky to win it in my first year in England and I have good memories from those games at Wembley.
“We play against Cambridge United, from League Two. I believe they are not going to make things easy for us in their stadium.”
Cambridge’s Abbey Stadium holds only 8,100 fans and will be packed to the rafters for the visit of 11-time Cup-winners United, but despite the potential for an upset, Van Gaal is expected to rotate his team.
Victor Valdes could be handed his debut in goal following his recent move from Barcelona, while fringe players such as Ander Herrera, James Wilson and Adnan Januzaj will hope to be included in the starting XI.
United’s fans voiced their disapproval of Van Gaal’s preferred 3-5-2 formation at half-time of Saturday’s 2-0 win at Queens Park Rangers and although the Dutchman is unlikely to abandon the system, he may view Friday’s game as an opportunity to experiment in terms of personnel.
Cambridge were promoted back to England’s Football League last season after a nine-year absence and are bidding to reach the fifth round for the first time since 2000.
They played at Wembley twice last season, winning promotion from the Football Conference via the play-offs and triumphing in the non-league FA Trophy, and manager Richard Money believes the experience will stand his players in good stead.
“We won two trophies last year. We’ve got a group of players that know what it means to win,” the former Liverpool player told Britain’s Press Association.
“We’ve been lucky that two trips to Wembley last year has given us some kind of thought process as to what might happen and what needs to be done.
“I’ve got absolutely no doubts that they will play well Friday night.”
Cambridge have met United only twice previously, losing 4-1 on aggregate in a two-legged League Cup tie in 1991.
But despite the lack of history between the clubs, there will be a face familiar to United’s supporters in Cambridge’s starting line-up.
Luke Chadwick came through United’s youth system and made 25 Premier League appearances for the club before leaving in 2004 and after a peripatetic career, he joined hometown club Cambridge last year.