Manchester United faced Hull City in the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final. How did they fare individually against the Tigers?
Manchester United welcomed Hull City to Old Trafford for the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final. The Tigers, who recently sacked former United assistant manager Mike Phelan, comfortably won 2-0 against Swansea City in their first fixture under the new management of Marco Silva. While no one expected Hull to really test the Reds, there is always cause for concern when a reasonably unknown coach attempts to make his mark on English football. Ultimately, United were on an eight game winning streak before kick-off and many fans already had an eye on the upcoming Premier League fixture with Liverpool the following weekend as the real test.
Having rested the core of his squad against Reading, Jose Mourinho reinstated many of the expected first team players into the line-up. David De Gea took the place of Sergio Romero in between the goal posts while Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian held down the four defensive positions. Mourinho opted back to his historically preferred 4-2-3-1, with Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba holding down the deeper midfield positions. Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Henrikh Mkhitaryan completed the dynamic midfield while Marcus Rashford was rewarded after his convincing performance against Reading with another start as the lone forward.
While many expected United to kill the tie in the first leg, Hull made it much more difficult than most fans expected. Their textbook defensive organisation tested the Reds’ creative players in the first half and the Tigers almost took a shock lead when the unmarked Adama Diomandé headed against the post from a free kick, which was subsequently, wrongly pulled back for offside. Relaxed finishing from Mkhitaryan and Rashford helped the Tigers go in level at half time.
The second half saw both teams up the urgency a few notches. Rooney missed a golden opportunity to break Sir Bobby Charlton’s goal-scoring record in the 50th minute but less than five minutes later Juan Mata opened the scoring by thrashing in Mkhitaryan’s clever back-post header. Hull enjoyed a spell of possession after conceding but failed to really test United’s defence. Pogba hit the inside of the post from a free kick, the seventh time the French international has hit the woodwork this season, before the super-sub, Marouane Fellaini, nodded home United’s second of the match to edge the Reds closer to the final.
All eyes now look towards the next round of Premier League fixtures. United managed to hold Liverpool to a 0-0 draw at Anfield earlier in the season but will be under pressure to take all three points at Old Trafford. There have been many hurdles for Mourinho this season, but Liverpool pose the tallest. The Scousers are a huge threat to United’s chances of finishing in the Champions League places this season.
GK: David De Gea: 6
Was never really tested by Hull’s attackers throughout the 90 apart from a few daisy-cutters from Robert Snodgrass. The Spaniard was left flat footed, however, when Diomandé nodded his effort against the upright. Luckily, the linesman raised his flag so the effort would not have counted even if it was on target.
RB: Antonio Valencia: 7
Really struggled to make an impact offensively in the first half with the majority of his passes going backwards when in a good crossing position. In the second half, the Ecuadorian looked a changed man. Pulled the ball back to Pogba smartly in the 54th minute and, a minute later, his cross to Mkhitaryan led to the opening goal. Was unlucky not to pick up an assist for his cross to Martial in 88th minute.
RCB: Chris Smalling: 7
A much more assuring performance from United’s form defender from last season. Looked confident on the ball and made a few adventurous runs forward to get his team going. Won five aerials, more than any other United defender.
LCB: Phil Jones: 7
Looked more liable than his centre back partner but fortunately Diomandé never really threatened to humiliate the former Blackburn Rovers defender. Made an important last-ditch interception at the start of the second half which immediately put the Reds on the attack. Had the second highest pass accuracy on the pitch, at 92%.
LB: Matteo Darmian: 7
A rollercoaster game for the Italian international. Put in two brilliant crosses in the opening five minutes to Mata and Rashford respectively but lost Diomandé a set piece and did not close down David Meyler quick enough for Diomandé acrobatic effort in the second half. He did, however, put in a peach of a cross for Fellaini to double United’s lead. His average defensive performance may have persuaded Mourinho to go with Daley Blind against Liverpool on Sunday.
RCM: Ander Herrera: 7
Took up Michael Carrick’s role of screening the United defence and looked comfortable for the most of the game. Won more tackles than any other United player (4) and the joint most interceptions (3). The Spaniard, to many fans’ surprise, has developed perfectly into Mourinho’s ball-winning midfielder.
LCM: Paul Pogba: 8
Dominated the middle of the park, as the Frenchman has become accustom to doing, and was unlucky not to score from a brilliant free kick. While Herrera matched Carrick’s defensive duties, Pogba exhibited some Carrick-esque passing with his wonderful playmaking from deep. An early second half ‘ping’ to Rooney really should have been awarded with an assist, but the United skipper pulled his shot centimetres wide. Won more aerial duels than the whole of the Hull squad combined (6).
RM: Juan Mata: 8
Started the game strongly with a beautifully caught half-volley which needed saving from Eldin Jakupović. Was given license to drift all over the pitch and his link up play with Mkhitaryan on the left was enjoyable to say the least; showed great skill to set up the Armenian for the best chance of the first half. Mata’s movement for the goal was subtle and his finish emphatic. May well have earned himself a place in Mourinho’s team to face Liverpool with this performance.
CAM: Wayne Rooney: 6
Unlike against Reading in the 3rd round of the FA Cup, Rooney really struggled to make a serious impact on the game. His well-timed run at the beginning of the second period was picked out by Pogba but the skipper lacked the finesse to put United 1-0 in front. Was replaced by Antony Martial in the 58th minute, although, it is unknown if Mourinho was hooking the captain for a poor performance or preserving his fitness for the fixture with Liverpool.
LM: Henrikh Mkhitaryan: 7
Like Darmian, Mkhitaryan had some great moments but some very poor ones too. Missed two very good chances to open the scoring in the first half but did brilliantly to set up Rashford’s chance at the end of the first half. The same formula continued into the second half: the Armenian fluffed a one-on-one chance in the first minute of the second period with a poor touch but assisted United’s opening goal with a clever header towards the back post.
ST: Marcus Rashford: 6
Many expected Rashford to have a field day against Tom Huddlestone. Unfortunately, the former Spurs player’s positional awareness choked Rashford out of the game. When the youngster was presented with chances, he scuffed his shots, most noticeably in the first half. Drifted out wide more in the second half and found some joy running at the Tigers’ fullbacks.
Antony Martial: 6
As has been the pattern of this season, the young Frenchman did not light up the pitch when introduced as a substitute in the 58th minute. Over hit a through ball to Rashford and scuffed a good opportunity into the ground in the final moments of the game.
Jessie Lingard: 6
Like Martial, Lingard failed to have any real impact on Hull’s solid defensive organisation.
Marouane Fellaini: N/A
The Belgian showed the Old Trafford crowd why Jose has been keeping faith with him. His looping header which doubled United’s lead has changed the context of the second leg to a much more comfortable affair.