Manchester United booked their place in the EFL Cup Final with a 3-2 aggregate win over Hull City. Goals from Tom Huddlestone and Oumar Niasse gave Hull a narrow victory in the second leg but it is United who advance to Wembley to contest the final against Southampton.
Mourinho made several changes to the starting XI that drew with Stoke City at the weekend, with Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo, Michael Carrick, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford all returning to the team for the second leg of this semi-final.
This was a poor performance from Manchester United. They were lacklustre in every phase of play and encouraged Hull City to play with greater risks and revitalise a tie that seemed dead and buried after United’s 2-0 win a fortnight ago.
Whether it was over-confidence given their comfortable lead or the inevitable drop in performance levels following an intense period of matches, United failed to take control of the game in the early stages and Hull played with a greater sense of urgency and intensity. They dominated possession, had more shots on target, more shots off target and seemed to exert themselves on United physically, winning individual battles all across the pitch. United, on the other hand, were sloppy, wasteful in possession and less cohesive than we’ve seen in recent weeks.
Hull’s lead came through a bizarre penalty decision, but the entire scenario almost summed up the malaise in the Manchester United team that had been evident all evening. Defending a set-piece, two Hull players tangled with United players and a lazy, half-hearted attempt to make contact with the Hull attackers led to a concession of a penalty despite minimal contact. Tom Huddlestone dispatched the penalty with ease and suddenly the tie was alive and kicking. Advantage Hull.
After the break, Manchester United found an equaliser through Paul Pogba’s stabbed finish. A fortuitous moment provided by Tom Huddlestone’s mistake, but nonetheless, United were back in the game and were expected to go on and take control of the game. Alas, that did not happen. United continued to play within themselves and continued to invite pressure from Hull City. Fundamentally, there seemed to be a lack of composure in Manchester United’s play. In weeks gone by you would expect Michael Carrick, Paul Pogba, and Ander Herrera to get on the ball and dictate the tempo of the match, control the shape of the game. Tonight, they did not do that. Zlatan Ibrahimovic became isolated and frustrated, unable to link up with his teammates and participate in the game in his usual way and United could not wrestle the initiative away from the home side. At one stage, it felt as if the only plan was to play it long towards Rashford in the hope that his pace and trickery could spark a moment of brilliance and create something for United out of nothing. Given the quality on the pitch, it simply wasn’t good enough.
Credit where credit is due, though, Hull City were terrific in the final twenty minutes or so and made a real good go of it. Marcos Silva was bold and decisive with his changes, introducing Lazar Markovic and Abel Hernandez and Hull went for it. Using the pace of their willing runners, Hull fashioned a number of chances late on. The lack of communication in defensive positions almost cost Manchester United, with first Markovic, and then Meyler getting in behind United down the right-hand side to create opportunities. On that second occasion, Meyler’s cross found Niasse to tuck home and prompt a nervous final five minutes for Mourinho and his men.
Niasse was a handful for Manchester United all night and he came close to scoring a second in the second half as well. Had his header nestled in the roof of the net rather than strike the crossbar, United might have been looking at a more embarrassing situation.
As it is, they celebrate a place in a major cup final and Mourinho will get an opportunity to lead Manchester United to their first trophy under his management. If he is successful, Mourinho will match the efforts of Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson, who both won this competition four times as managers. An impressive feat for such a young manager.