Manchester United began their EFL Cup campaign by paying Northampton Town a visit in the third round of the competition. United made many changes to the starting lineup, which included first appearances of the season for Sergio Romero and Timothy Fosu-Mensah, as well as the inclusion of Memphis Depay and Michael Carrick, both of whom have had very little first team involvement this season. Going into the match following three consecutive defeats, a win at Northampton could serve as a reset button for United’s form.
United started the game brightly, dominating possession and piling on early pressure. This paid off when Northampton goalkeeper Adam Smith made the mistake of picking up a back pass, leading to an indirect free kick in the penalty area. Receiving the ball after the wall blocked his free kick, Wayne Rooney laid the ball off to Michael Carrick, who opened the scoring with a beautiful strike from distance. Northampton wouldn’t lie down, however, and after going on the offensive caused a defensive mix up in the United box which led to a penalty being awarded. A penalty converted by Alex Revell.
United returned to dominating the game in the second half but were missing much of the desire and intent of the first half. This changed as Jose Mourinho brought on Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford, with the latter involved in both United goals in the half. He laid off the ball for Ander Herrera to rifle in from range and took advantage of an indecisive Smith to score United’s third.
With the defence shaky at times and the attack failing to threaten the Northampton goal too regularly, the midfielders were by far United’s best performers. They kept up the pressure while the attackers failed to create, and kept the game under control.
Morgan Schneiderlin did well in what was the most defensive role in the midfield. He closed the opposition down and won the ball back well and even helped going forward. Herrera also impressed. He brought to the table what many attacking minded midfielder lacks, which is aggression. On top of his incisive passing and movement, he also pushed and pressed the opposition well.
While those two played well, their fellow midfielder Carrick was even better. Playing from deep, Carrick benefited from not having as much pressure as normally found in the top flight. Instead of pressing Carrick, the Northampton players chose instead to put men behind the ball when United were in possession, and this played into Carrick’s hands perfectly.
Without the opposition closing him down, Carrick was free to take his time with his passing and manages to effectively control the tempo of the match. He remained in that deeper position for the majority of the game, and from there he was the brains behind the United play. And while Schneiderlin did most of the legwork defensively, Carrick’s contributions, his reading of the game cannot be ignored. A rare appearance from Carrick, who played his first game since the Community Shield, but he stepped up when the call came, and his man of the match performance today could give Mourinho something to think about tomorrow.