Paul Pogba’s goal has ensured Manchester United’s progress to their first EFL Cup final since 2009 despite a 2-1 defeat on Thursday to Marco Silva’s Hull City at the KCOM stadium.
United made the trip to Hull on the back of a fairly comfortable 2-0 lead from Old Trafford in the first leg – thanks to a late goal from Marouane Fellaini. The Red Devils insisted on treating the second leg with caution prior to the match and Jose Mourinho fielded a rather strong eleven for a side that only really needed one goal to put the tie to bed. Following the recent worrying trend, the visitors started the game on the back-foot and let Hull dominate the possession and by extension proceedings and their persistence paid off when they converted a penalty minutes before the half time whistle to give themselves a chance ahead of the second half. It may be largely attributed to complacency but United produced their worst first half performance since the defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge against the Tigers.
The second half was not a massive improvement by any stretch of imagination. The Red Devils restored parity through a Paul Pogba goal – a clever toe poke into the net, which was his seventh of the season in all competitions. But a defensive mix-up towards the end saw their 17 game unbeaten steak end as Oumar Niasse tapped in the winner, although the visitors had pretty much sealed their passage to Wembley on aggregate.
It was a performance worthy of defeat and left United with alarm bells ringing despite the comforting prospect of winning silverware is on the horizon, when they will face Southampton in the back end of February at the capital.
Jose Mourinho did well to hide his disappointment after the game and rather focused on significance of reaching another cup final – his 12th final in knockout competition. He said,
“I just want to say congratulations to my players. It was a difficult road to be in the final and we are in the final. I don’t want to say anything else. It is enough, I am calm, I behaved on the bench, no sending off, no punishment so no more words.”
Manchester United may well be experiencing a dip in form – which is perfectly normal on the back of the run they were on, which includes a nine game winning streak. There were still plenty of positives to take from the game – Rashford’s pace on both flanks and especially when he was switched to the right – the 19-year old was often the only outlet for United on the ground in the second half. Eric Bailly’s sooner-than-expected comeback from the African Cup of Nations is another upside and the centre half is expected to be involved on as early as Sunday in the FA Cup tie at home against Wigan Athletic.
The squad is now devoid of key injuries – and the fact that they could make ten changes on Sunday and still field a competitive side that is good enough to win, is a major boost. And the biggest plus is the fact that Manchester United can actually win something as early as February, at a time when they may need some galvanizing, in the middle of a likely fixture congestion.
It was a typical cup away day against a lesser opposition. United are through despite only just. They may not have played the way the 4200 away fans were vociferously singing they were, to the tune of ‘Herman’s Hermits’, quite relentlessly in bitterly cold weather, something that was again acknowledged by the manager.
But they will be booking their tickets for another eventful day out in Wembley and that is all that should matter at this moment in time.