Manchester United play West Ham United for the second time in a row, following their 1-1 league draw, this time in the EFL Cup quarter-finals. With Jose Mourinho serving his touchline ban, having been sent off at the weekend for kicking a water bottle, assistant Rui Faria takes the dugout to oversee a strong lineup, especially for this competition’s standards. Paul Pogba is out with a suspension and is replaced by Michael Carrick, while Luke Shaw, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial replaces Matteo Darmian, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata, and Jesse Lingard.
In a reversal of the league match, it was United who took an early lead, after Zlatan Ibrahimovic gets on the end of a Mkhitaryan backheeled pass. But things turn to normality once again for United, dominating possession without being able to score, and concede an equaliser. This time, after Ashley Fletcher pounced on the ball after David De Gea spilled a Dimitri Payet shot.
Then, in the second half, slowly but surely, United began to open up. Mkhitaryan picks up his second assist, setting up Anthony Martial after a clever pass from Antonio Valencia, who then turned creator for Martial’s second, and United’s third later on. And finally, Ibrahimovic grabs his second just before the final whistle, to round off a resounding win.
In a night where United put four past an opposition, it’s obvious that the attackers are the ones who take centre stage, and all of them put on terrific performances. Ibrahimovic was instrumental in the build-up plays, putting through Valencia to assist United’s third, while also positioning himself well enough to get on the end of and put away two chances. Wayne Rooney put in a passionate and hardworking display that recalled better years, and Martial showed sparks of his previous season form, with clever running and positioning that led to his two goals.
But United’s best performers came from the right. Valencia had one of his best performances of a great season, especially in attack, which says a lot. Yet even he couldn’t outshine United’s midfield Armenian Mkhitaryan. He linked up well with Valencia on the right, but he played much of the game more centrally than a normal winger would, and he was devastating.
His dribbling and clever pass to set up Ibrahimovic’s first was just a small sample of his performance, as he went and did more of the same for the majority of the match. His skill got him out of a pressing defence and breaks away with the ball seemingly stuck to his feet. He could’ve bagged himself a goal, too, had Ibrahimovic not tried so persistently to double his tally in the first half, with Adrian up tight on him.
His two assists were a product of his amazing general play, and his ability to link up with other on-form teammates. Mkhitaryan has had to endure a particularly difficult adjusting period at United, but if this performance is anything to go by, it looks like the real Mkhitaryan has arrived.