In football’s annual calendar, domestic knockout competitions serve some interesting and unique purposes. It is the cups, that generally spice up the season, while the league strives to grade the teams according to their respective levels. Even as the league establishes a team’s level in a particular season and decides how much moolah the club will be able to rake in, cups, in addition to giving minutes on the pitch to some of the underutilized players across clubs, also serve up regular servings of David vs Goliath matches, in which every David can dream of beating every Goliath with a single accurate shot. This analogy, although clichéd, is apt this week as Hull City welcome Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United for the second leg of the EFL Cup to the KCOM stadium on Thursday night.
This is Hull’s best run in the competition, at least in this century. Prior to this, their best run was last year when they were eliminated by Manchester City in the quarterfinals. In fact, Hull have recently punched quite higher than their weight in the EFL cup in the recent years. Last four years have seen Hull finish in or above last sixteen thrice, while in the eleven years prior to these four, Hull managed to reach the third round of the competition only thrice. Hull have been playing the role of David quite regularly across both cup competitions in England – having finished runners up to Arsenal in the 2013-14 FA Cup and having reached the quarter finals of the League Cup last season. To progress further in this season’s EFL Cup, Hull will need to overcome huge odds and ensure that they beat the Goliath that is Manchester United by more than two goals, as they lag behind United from the first leg by two goals to nil.
Hull’s opponents – the Goliath of the tie – Manchester United are quite familiar with these stages of the tournament, albeit recently they have struggled to reach this penultimate stage. United are vying for their ninth final appearance in the tournament. They have won the tournament four times and have been runners up four times so far. Having already secured a 2-0 lead in the first leg at home, United will travel to Hull knowing that even a single goal from them can double the number of goals required by Hull to progress. However, United will know they cannot be complacent due to their lead as many underdogs have punished bigger teams quite ruthlessly in recent years.
Hull City’s injury list is quite worrisome for the manager Marco Silva. Ryan Mason’s skull fracture against Chelsea has added one more name on the list and the manager must be hoping for some of the absentees to return. Robert Snodgrass, who missed the Chelsea match with a muscle injury might play on Thursday or at least the manager would be hoping that he gets fit in time for the game. Snodgrass adds one more goal threat to Hull City’s ranks and goals are what the team needs. Ahmed Elmohamady and Dieumerci Mbokani are still on AFCON duty. However, if the loan deal for Lazar Markovic from Liverpool goes through in time, he might be able to bolster Hull’s midfield.
Jose Mourinho might be tempted to rest some players for this match as the first leg lead has made the task at hand on Thursday much easier. He has almost his entire squad to choose from and only Eric Baily is unavailable as he is participating in the AFCON. If Mourinho rings in a few changes, these will most likely be in the midfield and defense, as these areas can use some rest, especially given the upcoming FA Cup and league matches (latter also against Hull City) in the next few days. In the attack, Mourinho will likely persist with Zlatan as he gives United the best chance of killing the tie really early on.
- United are unbeaten in their last 17 matches in all competitions but have drawn each of their last two 1-1.
- The Tigers have lost 12 of their last 13 matches against United in all competitions and haven’t even scored a single goal in any of their last four.
- United’s eight appearances in the final are joint-second best in the competition, after Liverpool – who have had 12 final appearances. If United make it through to the final, they will become the second-best leaving Tottenham on eight final appearances
To progress any further in the competition, Hull require goals and they do not have too many avenues of getting them. Their Uruguayan striker Abel Hernandez has shown some glimpses of his goal scoring ability, especially in their league win against Bournemouth. He was silenced in their last game, the league match against Chelsea on Sunday, but if given space and time he might be able to trouble the United defense and possibly allow his side to catchup with the 0-2 deficit currently held by the Red Devils.
It is almost a formality of a game for Manchester United, given their record against Hull and their lead from the first leg. However, to kill the tie once and for all, United need a quick goal and I believe that Mourinho will turn to his most prolific goal scorer of the season for this purpose. Manchester United do not have an awful lot of options up front and that makes Ibrahimovic that much more indispensable for Mourinho. The Swede has scored 14 in the league so far this season and has also scored twice in merely three appearances in the League Cup itself. He can be fully expected to add to that tally on Thursday night.
The overall dominance of Manchester United against Hull, Hull’s lack of goals and their injury list, along with the deficit from the first leg do not augur well for the Tigers. Hull need to score at least two goals to just take the tie into extra time, while United need only one goal for Hull’s requirement to be doubled. It is fair to say that the odds are loaded in favor of the Red Devils and it would take a huge miracle from Hull City to book a date in the final next month.
Hull City 1-2 Manchester United