Manchester United got to play on a Wednesday Night in Europe again.. in the Europa League. Nevertheless, they progressed through to the next round after a 4-0 aggregate win over French side St. Etienne amidst a 1-0 second leg victory. Unfortunately the win came at great cost, with Eric Bailly sent off and Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Michael Carrick picking up injuries. The juice may not have been worth the squeeze with a huge weekend coming up in the form of the EFL Cup Final.
It started off so well. Paul Pogba won the ball back for United in midfield, and Juan Mata dribbled through the defence before eventually ending up with the ball on the left side, he played an interesting ball into the box which beat the first defender and the Armenian was there waiting to get the final touch. 16 minutes in and the Red Devils had their 4th goal, effectively sealing the tie.
10 minutes later Mkhitaryan limped off with a very concerning hamstring injury. He was in some distress as he was taken by the physios, and United and the fanbase are very worried as they await the test results. Whilst Mkhitaryan doesn’t carry the United attack, he provides a skill set unmatched within the rest of the squad.
It will be a very nervy wait until the extent is known of what damage has or has not been done.
Another game, another soft tissue/muscle injury for Michael Carrick. The mainstay of Manchester United’s midfield has had a good run of form and fitness in the team, but these injuries have continued to happen as he nears the end of his career.
United will miss his presence dearly, and are a better side with him anchoring the midfield. Ander Herrera had the night off due to suspension, and will be rested and ready to step back in for the Cup Final. He has shown promise operating deep on his own with Paul Pogba slightly ahead, and will have to do so for a while.
It’s doubtful after all that many want to see Marouane Fellaini getting more minutes than he needs, after all (tThough he did hit a fine shot at one point on Wednesday).
Pogba & Mata Calmly Dominate
Pogba was superb on Wednesday night, dominating the midfield with somewhat ease. The French side were very impressive in the first leg, and United will be very happy they were able to not only win both legs, but keep clean sheets in both. The progress is continuing for Mourinho’s men.
Meanwhile, their French talisman in central midfield kept things ticking over, and as always remains a class apart from most midfield’s. His passing is becoming such a key feature of United’s play, once they unlock the passing the game they are still searching for in front of him their attack will be quite a force.
Juan Mata was also quite impressive for United, as he continues to cement himself amongst his manager’s plans. He’s quietly having a great season and his best at the club yet. The little Spaniard was determined to defy the press speculation early in the season, and has repeatedly.
Sergio Romero and Marcos Rojo Have Become Reliable
When he first arrived, he was maligned for the errors made in his early appearances in Premier League fixtures. What a difference a new manager and some patience has made for United.
It is certainly reassuring knowing David De Gea has a reliable backup now in the form of the Argentine, particularly with the club’s past reliance on the Spaniard to save them time and again. Now they can promptly sit him out where necessary and do it in confidence.
Meanwhile, Rojo has become a trusted member of the defence and squad as a whole. He was brought on to see out the game, and did so well and with discipline. Read this entire point again about both Argentines, and wonder if that was possible at the start of the section. The magic of Mourinho?
Silverware? Not Yet, But Progress Is Being Made
Yes, Manchester United have their chance at silverware this weekend in the EFL Cup. Fans can dream of that. But there is a lot of work to do in other competitions that they’ll need to maintain focus on. A trip to Stamford Bridge awaits in the FA Cup, the Premier League is a long road still whilst the draw for the Europa League takes place on Friday. Who knows what awaits the team in the next round.
The team is making serious strides though. Whilst the attack is awaiting it’s full potential to be unlocked, the midfield is improving and a defence still being rebuilt is showing promise. Whilst dreaming of end of season glory is not advised, there is reason for hope. But let’s take it a game at a time, shall we?