Manchester United beat Hull City 2-0 in the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final, putting one foot in the final at Wembley at the end of February. United have been playing some good possession-based and attacking football, threatening their opposition over the past nine games, which have all been victories for Jose Mourinho’s side. With tonight’s win, United not only stretched to a nine-match winning run but also extended their unbeaten run to 15 matches, which at this stage of the season is some great form and, building some great momentum at the same time. Sunday’s Premier League clash with Liverpool with be the match that many will be looking at now, the biggest test for United in their last 15 matches, one that they need to win in order to build that momentum further, cutting the scouse side’s lead from five points to just two, which will unlock United’s position in the title race, not that many expect Mourinho’s men to challenge Chelsea, who are on fire this season, but at this moment in time, you cannot just rule that out.
When Michael Carrick does not play for United, they miss something. Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera were paired up in midfield against Hull, but with Carrick, not only are you getting a good passer, a forward thinker, but a controller of the game. Carrick would rightly rested for the Liverpool match, a match he would be better utilised in, but when he is missing, United are missing that vital cog. Replacing Carrick is a big deal, as at the age of 35, he is not going to play on forever, and next season is still up in the air with the player out of contract. The likes of Sean Goss and Timothy Fosu-Mensah are mentioned as possible being replacements for Carrick, but they are not really like for like, with Goss the closer match, but also the player with lesser experience. Carrick is a great player for the team, a true winner of the ball and the game. A big problem for Jose Mourinho lies ahead, whether this summer or next, but replacing him will be a real problem to get right.
Against Hull, United had plenty of chances on goal, 21 in total, six of those on target, 11 off target and four being blocked. United could have been that much better in front of goal had the passes been better with some players just not getting into full effect during the match. Wayne Rooney’s chance which could have been his 250th goal was unfortunate, and could maybe have been taken better, had things gone to plan. Mourinho would have liked the semi-final to be over at this half-way stage, but the visit to the KCOM stadium will be more than a formality now that United only scored twice at home, but the clean sheet may benefit them, especially if they get an early goal, which will effectively end the tie, unless Hull find some form in the next couple of week, wich when looking at their injury woes, seems unlikely. Perhaps United were saving everything for Sunday’s match against Liverpool
Paul Pogba is raising his game
The French midfielder has grown the more he has played this season. Back in August and September he was being criticised by the media and the ABU supporters, with nearly every team having a better player than Pogba on their team, but looking at his statistics, they were pretty similar to last season, when he was playing for Juventus in Serie A, which not only demonstrates that he has been consistent but was now playing in a more competitive league. Pogba may not have lived up to his £89 million price tag just yet, and may never equate to a player capable of changing the outcome of matches like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but being the scorer of 40-50 goals a season is not the only achievement in football. Without players like Pogba, are Messi and Ronaldo complete players, able to fill every position on the pitch themselves, meaning could they reproduce that kind of form without the likes of Andres Iniesta, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric et al? Paul Pogba is a player that offers Manchester United what they need, his price tag matters less than that. Many will judge by price tag, when they should judge by what the end product is, and Pogba’s is starting to show.
Jose Mourinho wants to win trophies
The EFL Cup may not be the most prestigious of trophies, something Sir Alex Ferguson gave youth a chance in, but this season, under the guidance of Jose Mourinho, all silverware is being treated with a priority. The EFL Cup will buy United a place in Europe next season, not the competition they want to be in, but insurance should everything go wrong like it did earlier in the season. Not taking the opportunity to win it could well be rued. It is better to be safe than sorry. At this stage of the season, just past the halfway point in the Premier League, United lie in sixth place, just five points away from second place, which could well be cut further this weekend, or extended – or even filled by another team, dependant on results. United winning trophies is what the supporters want, especially after the barred three years which has produced the Emirates FA Cup and two FA Community Shields. United have one foot in the door to what could be their first final this season, and a place in the fourth round of the FA Cup, with a further chance to defend their title won last season, aiming to beat Warren Joyce’s Wigan Athletic in the fourth round.
Juan Mata offers something, but not always playing alongside Wayne Rooney
Juan Mata or Wayne Rooney, that should be the decision. When played together, play can be a bit slow as both are not the quickest of players but can think ahead. Playing with pace alongside them is key. Mata is a player that offers United some great things and has done for the past three years since he moved from Chelsea in fact. His opener against Hull on Tuesday evening showed that his thinking, combined with his positioning, burying his shot into the back of the net to take the frustration away from 55 minutes of play without being able to score. Mata has not been a regular starter recently, but has come off the bench at times, helping United get the better of their opposition – a key player in Mourinho’s squad, even though he was tipped to be the first player out of the door this summer, being that Mourinho was the new manager and he sold him whilst at Chelsea. It just goes to show that two and two occasionally make a number other than four.