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Manchester United Season Review Part Two: EFL Cup 2016/17

Manchester United under the management of Jose Mourinho, the third (fourth if you count Ryan Giggs) manager to lead the club after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson at the end of the 2012/13 season was now pitted with returning the Old Trafford club to their glory days. Making four new signings in the summer, the mood was good amongst the supporters with Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba coming to the club, all without the lure of UEFA Champions League football. United may not have done the business in the Premier League this season, but in the cup competitions, United were a better team throughout the season, winning the EFL Cup and the UEFA Europa League, which secured their status as a Champions League club once again, the second time in four seasons for United. Here is the review of United in the EFL Cup this season, a trophy that currently resides at Old Trafford.

Third Round – Northampton Town 1-3 Manchester United – Wednesday 21st September 2016

United entered the third round of the EFL Cup this season, some Premier League teams entered in the second round of the competition like United did after they finished seventh under the guidance of David Moyes. The first team up for United would be Northampton Town, which seems a long time ago now. This was a must-win match for United who had lost their previous three matches; two in the Premier League and one in the UEFA Europa League. Returning to winning ways was what was needed for Jose Mourinho’s men. Normally, youth would be playing in this competition, well under Ferguson, they would have. Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Marcus Rashford were the only youth used, and this was their second season in the first team. United took the lead in a nervous match through Michael Carrick in the 17th minute of the match, but the home side equalised, deservedly so three minutes before the end of the first half, giving United more work to do in the second half. United did just that. In the 68th minute, Ander Herrera put United ahead for the second time in the match, with Rashford hitting home seven minutes later to complete the scoring for United, earning a fourth-round tie against noisy neighbours Manchester City at Old Trafford, one of the teams to beat United in their three-match losing streak at the start of the season.

Fourth Round – Manchester United 1-0 Manchester City – Wednesday 26th October 2016

The Manchester derby part two, another to be played before the end of the season, in the Premier League of course. United played a good game against their noisy neighbours, unable to break the deadlock before the 54th minute when Juan Mata struck home. It was enough to put United into the fifth round, or the quarter-finals of the competition. The Spanish midfielders intelligent finish nine minutes into the second half of the match was a brilliant play bu the home side, who had been working on getting the ball into the back of the net throughout the first half. This match was another United needed to hit back in, losing 4-0 to Chelsea the weekend previous in the Premier League, which shocked United into submission. City played well but just did not seem to want the cup as much as United did. A quarter-final clash with West Ham United at Old Trafford would follow in the next round, which would see United playing the Hammers twice in the spell of only a few days.

Quarter-Final – Manchester United 1-4 West Ham United – Wednesday 30th November 2016

West Ham United visited Old Trafford for the second time in three days with United earning a 1-1 draw against the Londoners with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring United’s only goal on the day, a bit of a let down for United, who could have done with the victory. Second-time lucky, United would have the chance to send the Hammers packing from the Theatre of Dreams. This match was much different with United fired up from the start. The Hammers took the lead a few minutes into the match in the league, with United, through Ibrahimovic taking charge early this time. Former United Academy player Ashley Fletcher equalised for his side ten minutes from half-time, which set United back a little, with another draw happening, at this time at least. Anthony Martial took just three minutes to put United ahead with a decent finish, which added some confidence for the home side. In the 62nd minute, the Frenchman scored his second, putting United 3-1 up and cruising into the semi-finals with the Hammers retreating. In injury time, Ibrahimovic scored his second of the match, winning the game for United, which they were winning from the moment Martial scored his first goal. It was a good match for United, seen as a turning point by many, and there were many turning points to come throughout the course of the season. United were up against Hull City in the semi-finals, two legs; home and away.

Semi-Final First Leg – Manchester United 2-0 Hull City – Tuesday 10th January 2017

This was a crucial match for United who had lost five matches in all competitions at this point, needing a good home win to take to Hull 16 days later. Jose Mourinho played his cards right and United got the win they needed. Hull and United had already played at the start of the season, with Marcus Rashford scoring in injury time to take all three points home in the league, this showed how Hull were going to play in this match, deep defensive play. United broke the deadlock in the 56th minute through Juan Mata, who had scored some important goal this season, putting United through to the last round after scoring against City. United were one goal to the good, needing another. Three minutes from time, Marouane Fellaini headed United’s second, the goal which would see them through after the away leg. The Belgian is not a fans favourite and has cost United at stages during his career, but this season, his goal and contribution, at times, were crucial. United took a 2-0 aggregate lead to Hull for the second leg – 90 minutes or so from their first cup final under the management of Jose Mourinho.

Semi-Final Second Leg – Hull City 2-1 Manchester United – Thursday 26th January 2017

This big one, well at this stage of the season it was as there was much more to do in the Premier League, the Emirates FA Cup and the UEFA Europa League. United had a two-goal lead from the first leg, something that should help them get through, and it did, just! Tom Huddlestone scored the opening goal for Hull in the 36th minute of the match, putting his side back into the game, 2-1 on aggregate. United needed to score to stay in with a chance of their first final, which would be against Southampton as they beat Liverpool 2-0 on aggregate, scoring in each leg. Paul Pogba equalised for United in the 66th minute of the match, restoring United’s two-goal lead, 3-1 on aggregate. United failed to capitalise even more though. Hull did! They scored through Oumar Niasse five minutes from time, making it a nervy end for United, who clung on to earn their first cup final of the new era under Mourinho. United were going to Wembley, again!

Final – Manchester United 3-2 Southampton – Sunday 26th February 2017

The big one. Well not THAT big, but is was for United, who had one glimpse of silverware post-Ferguson by winning the Emirates FA Cup under Louis van Gaal during the 2015/16 season. United were ready for their moment in the limelight. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, United’s talisman of the season, opened the scoring in the 19th minute of the match, scoring a 25-yard free-kick after Ander Herrera was fouled. Manolo Gabbiadini had the ball in the net minutes before Zlatan struck, but it was ruled out, which seemed a wrong decision. Seven minutes before half-time, Jesse Lingard, a well-versed goalscorer at Wembley having scored the winner in the FA Cup the season prior to this one, also scoring in the FA Community Shield victory over Leicester City and now doubling United’s lead in this match. United were 2-0 up going into the break. Job done, right? No, not at all. In injury time at the end of the first half, Gabbiadini got one back for Southampton, putting the, back into the match. Three minutes into the second half, Gabbiadini equalised, making it game on for both teams once again. United had lost their 2-0 lead. The rest of the second half was a nervy one with Zlatan striking three minutes from time to win it for United, just like he did against Leicester at Wembley at the start of the season. Zlatan equals talisman, United’s savour this season, lifting his 32nd trophy of his career.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho broke a club record as no United manager has ever won a major trophy in their first season at the club. Mourinho got two; one being a European honour, his fourth in his management career. Already having won the FA Community Shield, which is not a major honour and the EFL Cup after beating Southampton at Wembley, United had already qualified for the UEFA Europa League next season, but that was not what they wanted. Finishing sixth in the Premier League, for the first time, United had one last chance to earn a UEFA Champions League place, by winning the UEFA Europa League, which they did, beating Ajax 2-0 at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, earning a group stage berth in the Champions League next season. Liverpool, who finished fourth, will have to qualify for the group stages, whilst Arsenal, who finished fifth, for the first time ever in the Premier League, will contend with Thursday night football in the Europa League, which is fitting after their fans mocked United all season.

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