Saturday 10 December 2016

Young blood steers Reds on Wembley way

Manchester United 2 Everton 1

Ian Herbert

Published 25/04/2016 | 02:30

The unbridled delight of those Manchester United supporters who lingered inside Wembley Stadium revealed what an FA Cup final means for a club who have not known one for seven years - and not won one for 12.

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"Yes, I know what it means," said Louis van Gaal when the dust had settled and someone asked him if he was familiar with the expression 'Your name's on the trophy'.

Yet there is an inconvenient truth amid the notion of a new Manchester United generation marshalled and guided by Wayne Rooney in the quarterback role.

It is that winning the FA Cup may mean Manchester United begin next season with the manager so many of their supporters want out.

If United get a sense that Mauricio Pochettino, yet to sign a new contract at Tottenham, is ready to leave for the biggest job in British football, then victory over Crystal Palace on May 21 will make no difference.

However, the Dutchman's willingness to blood those young players who flourished on Saturday, taken with the return of silverware, ought to be enough to kill off Jose Mourinho's ambitions to manage the side. Few other candidates scream out.

Everton players are down and out as Anthony Martial celebrates after scoring the winner. Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images
Everton players are down and out as Anthony Martial celebrates after scoring the winner. Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images
Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea celebrates after Martial scored their second goal. Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images
Manchester United's Timothy Fosu-Mensah fouls Everton's Ross Barkley. Photo: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images via Reuters
Everton's Ross Barkley is consoled by Manchester United's Wayne Rooney after the final whistle. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Perspective

Van Gaal must take some credit for the spectacle of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard working their angles and impudent back-heels at Wembley.

Also, for allowing Rooney his free role. That goes against the Dutchman's tactical inclinations.

But it took Michael Carrick's sense of perspective to prevent the euphoria becoming a runaway train.

"I don't want to get carried away too much," he said. "Two weeks ago everything was a disaster and this doesn't change the whole thing.

"We know where we're at as a team and a club. We know we need to improve, of course we do. We need to be right at the top of the league again. That's not going to change over the next few weeks."

The sight of United allowing Everton to come back so strongly that David de Gea's right glove was required to provide salvation turned the semi-final into United's season in microcosm: progress, then setback.

Van Gaal contributes to the confused pictured by his utterances. On Saturday night, he declared that some of his players were not of the standard he wanted.

It was an allusion to the world class players he anticipated bringing from Bayern Munich - Thomas Müller and Arjen Robben - who took one look at where United are and told him 'No thanks'.

The irony of his complaint was not lost. This is the manager who has had more than £250m at his disposal and who, in his infinite wisdom, replaced Angel di Maria with Memphis Depay.

The entire squad has been reshaped very much to his choosing. Ultimately, though, he has been rescued time and again by a crop of youngsters who have played far more than he planned (Martial) or been thrown in unexpectedly (Rashford and Lingard) because of a debilitating injury list and some questionable transfer decisions.

Still, it was out of dark origins that Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo emerged over a decade ago to lead United into a bright new dawn, and while expectations should be tempered, there are green shoots of recovery.

Rooney knows what it is like to be a teenage superstar, having joined United from Everton at 18. He said he feels a responsibility to cultivate and cajole Martial, Rashford and others now in much the same way as Ryan Giggs helped to nurture his Old Trafford career.

"When I joined the club at 18, Giggsy was about 30 and I saw the help and advice he gave me at that age so if I can help those young players in any way now I'm happy to do that," the United and England captain said.

"Playing at Man United, whether you're 18 or 30, you have to take some sort of responsibility and the young lads are handling that really well.

"Obviously it's early days, especially for Rashford, but the impact he has had has been huge for us.

"With the start Anthony had he wasn't going to go on like that for the whole season but he is coming up with some big goals and you can see the enjoyment in his game.

"I've been helping them but not only that - they can help me as well. You're always learning."

Rooney certainly seemed at home in a free-roaming midfield position, and as a debate rages over whether he should start up front for England at Euro 2016, his new role has provided some fresh food for thought for manager Roy Hodgson.

"I have played with and watched Paul Scholes in that role for years and I always knew that one day it is where I would play so I have tried to learn and watch what he did," Rooney said.

"It frees me up a bit and allows me to get on the ball and try to have a big influence on the game. I don't know (if I can play there for England). That is a decision for Roy Hodgson."

United fashioned multiple chances, then made life difficult for themselves after Chris Smalling's own goal nullified Marouane Fellaini's first-half strike, before Martial claimed that last-gasp winner.

Romelu Lukaku will rue two spurned opportunities as well as his missed penalty (albeit brilliantly saved by De Gea) but Everton manager Roberto Martinez, like Van Gaal a man under pressure, could at least take comfort from his team's spirited second-half showing.

It was United's day, though, and Rooney believes victory in the final would be the spur the club needs.

"It could be massive for us and would hopefully be the start of us getting back and winning trophies," he said.

"It is almost a new squad we have and we haven't had it easy over the last couple of years so if we win the Cup it will be a huge stepping stone for us."

Booed off at half-time by their own supporters, somehow Roberto Martinez's team found a way back into the match and it looked destined to go to extra-time before Martial's intervention.

United should never have needed to win with a goal in injury time. Yet, for all their struggles to see off Everton during 90 minutes, there will have been something that made this victory even more satisfying for the fact that it was seized by their team right at the death.

Challenge

Having had their opposition by the throat, United could not find a way to put the game out of sight and, as has often happened in the post Alex Ferguson era, the match started to slip away from them.

Martial tortured Muhamed Besic, co-opted to play right-back in the absence of Seamus Coleman, and United used that channel time and again to get behind Everton.

Finally, they got their reward as Martial accelerated past Besic and cut the ball back for Fellaini to sweep it in from close range.

Everton had the chance to equalise on 56 minutes when referee Anthony Taylor adjudged that Ross Barkley, barely in the game until then, had been fouled by Fosu-Mensah.

Lukaku struck the penalty well but De Gea got down early and strong, reaching out to push it wide.

This was Everton's best period and often John Stones would step up into midfield with Darron Gibson dropping back to cover at centre-half, permitting the Englishman to pick out passes.

Tom Cleverley initiated the move for the equaliser, picking out the substitute Gerard Deulofeu on the right and his cross went on off the right foot of Smalling, who had hitherto been excellent.

It needed a late challenge from Fellaini on Lukaku to save the day on 82 minutes before finally United scored the winner.

On his backside, substitute Ander Herrera managed to steer the ball through to Martial and he finished with that great confident flourish that spoke of better, more successful times for United. (© Independent News Service)

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