It was not pretty at first but Manchester United have managed to proceed to the fifth round of the Emirates FA Cup by beating Wigan Athletic 4-0. Jose Mourinho made plenty of changes to the starting eleven in the hope of giving his regular first team players some rest. It was always going to be a little difficult at first with so many different combinations all over the field. The midfield of Marouane Fellaini and Bastian Schweinsteiger, especially, seemed a little disjointed for first few minutes. So did Anthony Martial who started the game as a lone striker but ended it on the left flank, where he played exceedingly well in the second half. United had plenty of possession in the first half, almost reminding some of Louis Van Gaal, but could not break through Wigan’s resolve and the solid back line.
The goal, however, which was a testament to United’s persistent passing game, changed the game on its head. United went in to the half-time break with a 1-0 scoreline and that goal gave Wigan the tough task of chasing the game and be rigid at the back, at the same time. Obviously, with Wigan trying to attack more, they left too many spaces at the back to exploit and ended up losing the game comfortably. The second Chirs Smalling goal from a terrific Martial cross put the game to bed for United and then it was only about seeing the game out and United did that pretty well, scoring two while doing so.
Chris Smalling spoke after the game and acknowledged the difficulty that they faced in the first half and also spoke about the competitive edge in this United team.
“We knew that Wigan would be a hard team to beat, a lot of top teams have gone out so it’s good to still be in the cup.
“We have a lot of competition in the squad, we have not got many injuries but now everyone wants to stay in the team for Wednesday.”
United could have taken the lead much earlier in the first half had Henrikh Mkhitaryan got a good touch on a dangerous Timothy Fosu Mensah cross. But in spite of the missed opportunities, the Armenian put up a decent footballing display, scoring one excellent counter attacking goal. This is what he had to say about it.
“It was a very nice counter attack. Everything happened very quickly.
“It doesn’t matter if I am playing or not I am trying to do everything I can, working very hard. I am trying to do my best for the team.”
He was honest enough to accept that they lacked something in the first half but were quick to fix it in the second.
“It feels good. It was not our best game in the first half but in the second we were very good.
“In the first we couldn’t find free space but in the second we had more of that. The most important thing is we won 4-0 and go through.”
Jose Mourinho had a lot to ponder upon while going in to the half-time break but whatever he said in there worked. He expressed his satisfaction regarding the victory and felt that his team deserved to go through.
“We deserved to win. The first half was not very good but we managed to be 1-0 in front. Then at half-time we spoke about changing a few things in the dynamic of the team. The guys obviously accepted it well because the second half was much better; we deserved to win, the job was done and we are in the last 16.”
Mourinho also paid an ode to Wigan’s resolve and determination
“We knew Warren [Joyce] would organise the team very well defensively, with aggression, but we knew that to break that wall we needed to played better than we did in the first half. We were quite lucky to be 1-0 up and then in the second half, with more space, we killed the game.”
The manager was also happy with all the player’s performance, some more than others.
“The performance of the players individually was good enough too – obviously, some were better than others, but that’s football. Overall, I’m happy with what they did.”
Talking specifically about Mkhitaryan, Mourinho seems to be perfectly happy with his progress at the club.
“Since he came into the team, we and Micki himself thought he was ready. He had a good impact immediately, then he had a break with the injury against Tottenham, and then he came back and played quite well, so we are happy with him.”
Mourinho did not just rotate the squad but also gave out two first team debuts to Axel Tuanzebe and Joel Castro Pereira. Tuanzebe and Pereira, both, did not have too much to do due to the non-existent attacking threats but it was good to see the manager giving the academy graduates some much deserved time in the middle. Tuanzebe, in his post game interview, revealed Zlatan IBrahimovic’s advice for him.
This is great to see!
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 29, 2017
It was not a difficult opposition so one should not get carried away with the victory, although thumping. United have a mid-week league game coming up and the least that is expected of them is the three points. Their opponents are none other than Hull City, who ended their 17 games unbeaten run earlier this week. Mourinho should have his pupils charged up for that game. It not only gives them an opportunity to avenge their last defeat but also gives them a chance to get their top four hunt back on track. With just three days to go for the game, some of the players from today’s game will have to recover in time to be ready for it. Hopefully, they can continue where the left it off in the second half.