Tuesday 24 April 2018

Martial lifts mood as United cruise through

Man Utd 4 West Ham Utd 1

Anthony Martial fires past Adrian during Manchester United’s 4-1 victory over West Ham at Old Trafford. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters
Anthony Martial fires past Adrian during Manchester United’s 4-1 victory over West Ham at Old Trafford. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters

Jason Burt

With Jose Mourinho out of sight, banished through his one-match touchline ban, which was confirmed before kick-off, it was two players he has left out in the cold who drove Manchester United into the semi-finals of the League Cup.

There were two goals for Anthony Martial and two assists for Henrikh Mkhitaryan as West Ham were overwhelmed.

Mourinho could not be seen - he did not take a place in the directors' box - but those sometime outcasts were conspicuous. Who would have thought the Bundesliga Player of the Year in Mkhitaryan could have such an effect? Who would have thought one of United's best players from last season, and a £58m signing, in Martial could do so as well?

It is either good management from Mourinho to provoke such a response or, depending on your view, negligent of him to overlook them. He has complained at needing to rebuild this team. Some might argue that he has better players at his disposal than he thinks - if only he was disposed to use them more often.

Superbly

United had fallen behind on 90 seconds against West Ham on Sunday, but went ahead after 87 seconds here. It was a superbly constructed goal with the recalled pair of Wayne Rooney and Mkhitaryan combining. Rooney latched on to Marcos Rojo's header to thread a pass through to Mkhitaryan who smartly back-heeled into the path of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with the striker striding on to deftly dink a shot beyond Adrian as the goalkeeper swiped him with his outstretched leg.

Adrian’s boot makes contact with the knee of Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the Manchester United striker opened the scoring at Old Trafford last night. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images
Adrian’s boot makes contact with the knee of Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the Manchester United striker opened the scoring at Old Trafford last night. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

That advantage should have increased just five minutes later when Rooney, again, turned and played another intelligent pass to find Ibrahimovic who - with Mkhitaryan and Martial sprinting forward either side of him - elected to shoot instead. Adrian pulled off an impressive double save to also block the follow-up from Ibrahimovic.

United were rampant. Pedro Obiang hauled down Martial and Rooney's curling free-kick was pushed away by Adrian as West Ham desperately attempted to hang on to the contest.

Certainly United were not feeling Mourinho's absence, with the manager banished to the stands and fined £16,000 after he was sent off for kicking a water bottle in frustration during that 1-1 draw between these two sides just four days earlier.

Both sides named strong teams and there was no lack of intent from West Ham - and no lack of threat from United, with Rooney, Mkhitaryan and Martial - who wasted two chances - a threatening combination behind Ibrahimovic. More goals seemed destined.

Blood on the face of Manchester United's Wayne Rooney after sustaining an injury. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Blood on the face of Manchester United's Wayne Rooney after sustaining an injury. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

What was not expected is that one would follow a David De Gea mistake. It came as Dimitri Payet ran to the edge of the penalty area and fired a low, dipping shot which the goalkeeper shovelled in to the path of Ashley Fletcher, and the 21-year-old former United player, who left last summer in search of first-team football, turned it home from close range.

"He's one of our own," sang the gleeful West Ham fans to rub in a bit of salt and stall United's momentum, although there was also a blow for the visitors as they lost the influential Aaron Cresswell to injury on half-time.

United lost their own left-back, Luke Shaw not re-emerging for the second half, but they brushed that aside to quickly re-establish the lead as Mkhitaryan ran on to Antonio Valencia's back-heel and calmly pulled the ball back for Martial to side-foot high into the net.

United then lost Rooney - at least for the next game, away to Everton - after he received a fifth caution of the season, but he recovered to again play a clever pass as he slipped the ball through to Martial, whose drive was beaten away by Adrian.

The goalkeeper then scooped up a fierce low free-kick from Ibrahimovic. It delayed the inevitable - with Ibrahimovic's incisive reverse pass finding Valencia who, crossed low and along the six-yard area for Martial to tap beyond Adrian.

Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

United sensed more goals but West Ham fluffed no fewer than four chances before Ibrahimovic rounded off the scoring as he side-footed home from a couple of yards out after a strong run by Ander Herrera.

There was even an appearance for another (formerly) banished player as United brought on Bastian Schweinsteiger to loud cheers every time he touched the ball. A positive night was rounded off with a semi-final pairing against Hull. It was that kind of night. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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