He is a master when it comes to reaching cup finals but when Sir Alex Ferguson looks back upon this game he may wonder whether the cost was worth it. Luis Anderson was carried off and Jonny Evans and Rafael da Silva hobbled off which, in a season when the title race is so tight, is some price to pay for reaching the Carling Cup final.
Ferguson also later cited injuries of unspecified seriousness to Luis Nani, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville; he already has Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown and the long-term absent Owen Hargreaves out the picture. United are off to Wembley on 1 March although judging by the anguish on Anderson's face as he was carried off the pitch last night, he might not be part of it. The midfielder was sent for an X-ray on his damaged left ankle with United fearing a break.
As for Rafael, impressive again at right-back but out the game before half-time, a hamstring tear means he is out for two weeks. Evans has a recurrence of his ankle injury. Once Anderson had been carried off, United were down to 10 men, or nine according to Ferguson because of the injury that incapacitated Evans.
The 10 men of United suffered accordingly with two late goals from substitute Giles Barnes, one a brilliant free-kick, restoring a little of Derby's dignity. Before then Nigel Clough's side had taken quite a drubbing in the first half, three goals down within 34 minutes, and the son of Brian most likely cursing another painful visit to the damned United. Three years ago he lost 5-0 as Burton Albion manager in an FA Cup replay, so last night was an improvement on that.
It will be Ferguson's sixth League Cup final at the club and this was the 14th semi-final he has won out of 15 at United in domestic competitions. Of those five previous finals, Ferguson has won only two, in fact the League Cup was the one major trophy that Roy Keane never won at the club. At Wembley, Ferguson will, in all likelihood, face holders Tottenham who take a 4-1 first-leg lead to Burnley tonight
Ferguson said that he will stick with his young players for the final, although it will be curious to see if that changes when the prospect of another triumph draws closer. Last night he started with Darron Gibson and Danny Welbeck as well as bringing James Chester on for a debut and for the most part they looked assured.
"Finals are always hard to get to and the young lads have done fantastic to get there," Ferguson said. "It was a great performance in the first half. In the second half we got injuries and we had to make changes. The young players will play in the final - absolutely. They deserve it.
"The important thing is to find out about their temperament," he added, "and they've all proved that again."
Nani, John O'Shea and Carlos Tevez scored the goals in the first half against Clough's side who looked, at first, just as you would imagine a team placed 20th in the Championship. They were overwhelmed, especially in a 4-4-2 formation which few Premier League teams would dare to employ at Old Trafford. United brought the tie level on 16 minutes.
Nani's goal certainly looked spectacular, he cut in from the left, ignoring O'Shea's overlap and unleashed his shot from around 30 yards. The former United goalkeeper Roy Carroll got a hand to the ball and really might have done better in the circumstances. From then, United smelled blood and Derby duly crumbled.
The second goal came from O'Shea after Tevez and Welbeck passed their way through Derby to put the defender in the clear. The third was headed in by Tevez from Rafael's cross. For their part, Derby looked completely out of the game by half-time.
Derby's first goal came when Evans tripped Paul Green and Barnes converted the penalty on 79 minutes. The 20-year-old midfielder was rated as one of the brightest prospects in English football and was the subject of a bid from West Ham before a knee injury last February kept him out the game for 11 months. Last night he took his penalty well but his free-kick was even better.
Between Barnes' two goals Cristiano Ronaldo scored from the penalty spot – after Carroll tripped Tevez - which restored United's aggregate lead to 4-2. Then, from a free-kick 30 yards out, Barnes curled the ball past Ben Foster for a spectacular second goal. There was no debating that United were worth their place at Wembley, it remains to be seen whether it was worth all the aggravation.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Foster; R Da Silva (Fletcher, 42), Neville (Chester, 67), Evans, O'Shea; Giggs (Ronaldo, 58), Gibson, Anderson, Nani; Tevez, Welbeck. Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Tosic, Scholes, Possebon.
Derby County (4-4-2): Carroll; Connolly, Todd (Barazite, 62), Albretchsen, Stewart; Teale, Addison, Green, Davies (Savage, h-t); Hulse, Commons (Barnes, 68). Substitutes not used: Bywater (gk), Villa, Nyatanga, Hines.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
The number of League Cup finals that Sir Alex Ferguson has guided Manchester United into since taking over in 1986.Reuse content