He was brought to Manchester to win trophies and, although the League Cup may be the least regarded of the lot, Jose Mourinho must be favourite to lead his side out at Wembley in February.
In the League Cup and the Europa League Manchester United have beaten opponents in a way they have failed to do when Premier League points are at stake. On Sunday, West Ham had forced a draw against the flow of play.
Here, they were brushed aside in this League Cup quarter-final to the extent that by the time Anthony Martial clipped home his second of the night with half an hour remaining all the crowd wanted to know was whether Wayne Rooney would score the goal he required to equal United’s goalscoring record.
Mourinho, or his assistant, Rui Faria, even felt safe enough to bring on Bastian Schweinsteiger for his first appearance of the season to a standing ovation. He tried an ambitious shot into the Stretford End and was involved in the move that led to Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring the fourth.
Rooney tried manfully but received only a cut face from a high boot for his troubles and a fifth yellow card of the season that will cost him his chance to equal the record at his beloved Goodison Park on Sunday.
The night began with a minute’s silence for the dead footballers of Chapecoense. If there was any stadium in the world that would understand what it is to lose a team in an air crash, it was Old Trafford.
Jose Mourinho was watching from the stands, having accepted the one-match ban for his display of petulance against the same opponents on Sunday. However, he made his presence felt with the team sheet alone. Unlike Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, he would not be naming a young side to see where the experimentation took him.
Mourinho has never been much of a manager for experimenting with youth. He is about winning. The League Cup was the first trophy he won as a manager in England and he fully intended to win it again.
His players took less than a couple of minutes to stamp their own authority on the night. The goal may have been finished seamlessly by Zlatan Ibrahimovic but there was real beauty in its creation, involving two players who had shone in the 4-0 rout of Feyenoord on Thursday night and then been discarded when the Premier League came calling.
Wayne Rooney’s turn and pass was good but Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s back-heel was gorgeous, slipping Ibrahimovic through on goal. One on one with Zlatan usually provokes only one outcome and goal number 10 of the season duly arrived. But for a double save from Adrian, there would have been 11 well before the game was a quarter of its way done.
The number that Old Trafford really cared about was 249, Manchester United’s club record tally of goals that Rooney remains one behind. When Anthony Martial was witlessly brought down by Pedro Obiang, the England captain had a chance from a free-kick. It was curled beautifully and Adrian, at full stretch, turned it wide.
The pattern of the night seemed set. West Ham would be battered as Feyenoord had been and the way to the semi-finals was open. However, Old Trafford has become wearily familiar with Manchester United dominating games they fail to win and this appeared no different.
From nowhere West Ham equalised. Breaking away, Pedro Obiang delivered a long, crossfield ball to the left flank where Dimitri Payet, their most dangerous player, lurked. Payet drove forward and delivered a typically fierce shot that David De Gea failed to hold.
Meeting it was Ashley Fletcher, who had grown up in Yorkshire and joined Manchester United as a 13-year-old, played first-team football only on loan at Barnsley and then been transferred to West Ham. It was his first goal. It was in front of the Stretford End. This would have been the stuff of fantasy when he was at the Manchester United academy. He just wouldn’t have imagined doing it in another shirt.
However, United started the second half in precisely the same way they had with the first. Once more Mkhitaryan was the provider, pulling a ball back for Martial that was drilled hard into the top corner of Adrian’s net. Too often under Mourinho, Manchester United had taken and then lost the lead. Now they had won it back.
Manchester United: (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Rojo, Shaw (Blind 45); Carrick, Herrera; Mkhitaryan (Rashford 90), Rooney, Martial (Schweinsteiger 86); Ibrahimovic.
Subs not used: Romero, Mata, Lingard, Schneiderlin.
West Ham United (3-4-3): Adrian; Kouyate, Reid, Ogbonna; Antonio (Lanzini 58), Obiang, Fernandes, Cresswell (Masauku 45); Feghouli, Fletcher, Payet (Zaza 76).
Subs not used: Randolph, Nordtveit, Noble, Collins.
Referee: M Jones (Cheshire)
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