Dundee United manager Mixu Paatelainen last night turned up the heat on rivals Ross County – and claimed they wouldn’t be human unless they had one eye on next weekend’s League Cup final against Hibs.
Paatelainen takes his United side to Dingwall for today’s Scottish Cup quarter-final encounter with the trophy-chasing Staggies as they aim to send them into their glamour final at Hampden on a downer by knocking Jim McIntyre’s side out of the competition on their own turf.
Paatelainen, who will be without first-choice goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima who has a thigh injury, said: “It is hard – I’m sure they’ll be thinking about the cup final coming up.If not, they’re robots. It’s only natural.
“Some players will take the prospect of the final as a motivation. They’ll think: ‘It’s a cup final next week and I’m going to show the manager I’m worth a place in the team’.
“Others think ‘I’m not going into a crunching tackle because I’m a regular starter and I might get injured. I want to be ready for next week’. We’re dealing with human beings.
“Everyone responds differently. Players who believe in themselves take it as an extra motivation. Others don’t put themselves out because they want to be available.”
Paatelainen has scorched suggestions he will rest certain players as their top priority remains staying up in the top flight against all the odds.
The relegation-threatened Tayside club still have silverware aspirations of their own and their Finnish manager reckons an extended cup run can also boost their Premiership survival hopes.
He said: “We can’t start thinking about resting players. We can’t take a match like this lightly. We take it seriously as it’s the quarter-final of the Scottish Cup. It’s a great opportunity for us and a cup run will not harm our league job at all.
“We’ll try our best and field the strongest team we can. If not, Ross County will murder us – they’re a fantastic team, very well organised.
“It depends on your squad and we have been doing a little bit of resting in recent weeks. If you look at our line-ups, we’ve had players in our starting 11 who have not even made the bench the following week. It’s not as if we have been unhappy with their performances. They have been rested and it has been good to do that especially in weeks when you have three matches.”
Paatelainen has warned his cup hopefuls to beware of County who’ll have their sights set firmly on revenge in the wake of last week’s 3-0 defeat by United in the Highlands.
He said: “They’ll be very, very fiery.”
United are without the services of Japanese star Kawashima which means a recall for young German ace Luis Zwick.
Kawashima injured his thigh in the 1-0 league defeat by Aberdeen in midweek, but Paatelainen has no worries about bringing 21-year-old Zwick back between the sticks.
He said: “Luis is a good goalkeeper.
“We brought in Eiji because of his experience and the situation we have been in most of the season has been a difficult one. It’s possibly unfair on an inexperienced goalkeeper, but there’s no question Luis is a good goalkeeper and knows exactly what is expected of him.”
Meanwhile, Frenchman Guy Demel is still out through injury.