Vishakh’s latest “The Manchester Musings” column.
After an absolute shellacking in West London, Manchester United returned to winning ways by grinding out a 1-0 win against rivals Manchester City to progress to the quarter-finals of the EFL Cup.
It was by no means a vintage performance, but it got the job done, restored bragging rights, and also released some of the pressure on Jose Mourinho.
Why he was under pressure was because of 90 minutes on Sunday afternoon.
A 0-0 draw away at Liverpool meant that United went into the Chelsea game slightly buoyed, knowing that 3 points at Stamford Bridge would go a long way in securing a top 4 spot.
That was put to bed after about 30 seconds – a defensive mix-up between Smalling, Blind, and De Gea allowed a routine ball to find its way to Pedro who duly obliged by scoring into an empty net.
It was so bad that it had come straight from kick-off, some innocuous passes knocked around, a hopeful ball forward, and then calamity.
After conceding 30 seconds into the game, the entire plan was knocked off its hinges and United really did not recover at all.
The second goal came on the 20 minute mark from a corner – Chris Smalling at fault again, and it left Gary Cahill to lash home from about six yards.
Naturally, the home ground was rocking, and United had still not turned up.
Going 2-0 down did spur them into action, and chances were created – namely an Ibrahimovic header, a Herrera long shot, and from that, an attempted Lingard follow-up.
Chelsea however were content to see it through and play on the counter.
It was the counter that led to the third goal – losing possession, United were caught up the field and the ball broke to Hazard at the edge of the area where he loves to operate.
Everyone bar Chris Smalling (it seems) knew that Hazard would look to cut in and shoot into the far corner – and that is precisely what happened to make it 3-0.
It could, and did, get worse – United allowed N’Golo Kante (of all players) the freedom of the Bridge to cut and jink his way into the box and fire into the far corner.
A thoroughly abject performance that raised plenty of questions that needed to be answered Wednesday night.
While Pep Guardiola named what can be termed a reserve side, Jose Mourinho put his strongest-available side looking for a win.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan wasn’t even named on the bench, sparking all manner of theories and questions.
Another forgotten man, Morgan Schneiderlin, was named on the bench.
Carrick and Herrera started in midfield, with Pogba behind Ibrahimovic.
Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford started out wide.
United fans were nervous seeing a CB pairing of Blind and Rojo.
The first half was…tranquil. Both teams looked tidy, each team had a couple of chances (City probably the better one), and it was scrappy.
Aleix Garcia for City was particularly impressive with his ball control and distribution. Antonio Valencia was solid on the right, and nullified Leroy Sane/Nolito.
At halftime, both managers would have been content but nothing more – Mourinho would definitely have wanted more from his attacking players.
United came flying out of the blocks in the second half – the players put themselves about more (led from the front with Ibrahimovic/Herrera/Pogba pressing high), winning headers, winning second-balls, and really putting pressure on the City players.
This in turn got the crowd up.
A Willy Caballero clearance was won on the halfway line by Marcos Rojo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic spun Otamendi, and drove into the box.
He cut the ball back towards Ander Herrera, who got tangled up with Fernando, but the loose ball fell perfectly for Juan Mata to slot home.
It seemed to release a lot of tension at Old Trafford.
Pep Guardiola brought on Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero to change things – however neither were particularly effective.
United in contrast, went into typical Mourinho mode when protecting a 1-0.
Morgan Schneiderlin was brought into the game for fresh legs, and it was at this point that United fans realised they were required to help the team see it through.
The United team were quietly effective, but City were also lacking in tempo and intensity – so much so that Michael Carrick found himself outpacing Aguero towards the end.
One got the feeling that City were playing within themselves, while United were working hard to ensure they did not make a mistake.
City ended the game without a shot on target, and Pep Guardiola was quick to deflect any criticism by pointing out how proud he was in the team’s youngsters.
United were not great or scintillating (though there were moments), but the win was the win.
The draw put them at home to West Ham in the next round (where there is history between the two teams) which will be played November 30th.
Written by Vishakh Chandrasekhar
Follow Vishakh on Twitter @VishC24
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