Manchester United were able to inch out a win in their Carabao Cup encounter against Rochdale. A brilliant second-half goal from Mason Greenwood set the Red Devils rolling at Old Trafford but the away side responded via a superb strike from Luke Matheson to send the game into penalties.
While United did win the shootout 5-3, avoiding the fate scripted by Tottenham Hotspur in the same competition earlier, the worrying nature of the display was still prominent.
1. Disappointing Performance
In more ways than one, this game was a bigger indication of worry for the Mancunian outfit than the defeat to West Ham United on the weekend.
United ought to have easily won the game and not let it go to a nail-biting penalty finish.
The fact that the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea were able to post huge margins of victory in the same competition with a similar brand of opponent with their youth players is quite telling of United’s woes.
In games like these, Solskjaer doesn’t have the crutch of the board’s limited transfer spending to fall back on as a youth team ought to be well capable of engineering a convincing victory.
2. Youth Are Bright
Both the goals of the night from open play were scored by teenagers. Greenwood, who became United’s youngest European goalscorer against Astana last week, was on target yet again, keeping up his hype and now scoring twice in as many games. There is a good chance that Marcus Rashford’s injury concerns will mean that he will get opportunities to start upfront in the Premier League too.
As for Rochdale, they needed to rely on the heroics of 16-year-old Luke Matheson to gift them late hope.
These cup competitions are always the perfect platform for youngsters to display their mettle and prove a point and it is evident that these two starlets did precisely that.
2. Tuanzebe As Captain
It was a brilliant gesture from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to hand Axel Tuanzebe the captain’s armband despite the likes of Paul Pogba starting.
At 21 years of age, this is precisely the sort of confidence that the English defender needs at this stage.
He certainly impressed in the position and has made a strong statement as to how he can be the go-to replacement at centre back if the first team options are afflicted by injury or poor form.
Besides, this isn’t the first stint at captaincy for the academy graduate who has now captained the Red Devils at all age stages.
4. Pogba’s Return Wasn’t Convincing
Many United supporters would have been relieved to see Paul Pogba back in the starting lineup after the absence due to injury. However, his return wasn’t as impactful as they would have hoped.
The Frenchman’s role was a largely muted one after the initial minutes. He ought to have scored in the first half when Mason Greenwood’s cross had put him in a promising spot, but apart from that he wasn’t his erstwhile lethal presence.
In fact, the only creative moment of importance in the game came not through him but from the heavily critiqued Jesse Lingard who made the crucial pass that led to Greenwood’s goal.
Fans will be begging for Pogba to return to form when United face Arsenal at Old Trafford next.
5. Chelsea Next
The Cup’s draw has spoken and United’s next opponent will be Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
A lot of dynamic has changed since United last thrashed the Blues 4-0 in the opening game of the Premier League.
Such an encounter will keep interest in the competition and it will be fascinating to see the youthful sides battle it out. At the same time, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be right in worrying about Chelsea as the London side could easily end United’s Cup ambitions.
Given how a Premier League title already looks like lost property for the Red Devils, they will have to be desperate at landing every piece of attainable silverware to placate their supporters.