Mata Turns Manchester Red (For Now) in EFL Cup

Juan Mata scores in EFL Cup for United

Things haven’t exactly gone to plan for either of the Manchester clubs going into Wednesday’s derby match. Pep Guardiola’s City were winless in their last five matches. José Mourinho and Manchester United, on the other hand, were coming off of a 4-0 embarrassment against Chelsea. This midweek derby had a quarterfinal spot in the EFL Cup on the line, and it was clear the Guardiola wasn’t very concerned about the competition. Could a strong United squad take down City’s B-Team?

At the start of the match, it looked like City might repeat Chelsea’s dominance. Just over 60 seconds in, Jesus Navas found Kelechi Iheanacho for an open header inside the six-yard box, but the 20-year-old couldn’t get his effort on target. Once again, United were off to a slow start.

Despite City’s weakened lineup, the Sky Blues were easily the better team through the opening stages of the match. The Red Devils struggled to orchestrate attacks, and the ones that they did manage usually ended with a shot off target. Luckily for Mourinho, City couldn’t find a way to get a shot on target either.

In final five minutes of the half, Iheanacho nearly found himself through on goal again, only for a perfectly timed sliding challenge from Marcos Rojo to clear away the danger. When the whistle blew for the break, fans must’ve thought that things could only get better in the second half.

Thankfully for fans at Old Trafford, and this fan stuck in Columbia, Missouri, United apparently found their attacking boots before the second period of play. Three minutes into the half, Zlatan Ibrahimovic found Paul Pogba in the penalty area, and the Frenchman’s effort was narrowly deflected onto the woodwork.

Then, in the 54th minute, United finally found pay dirt. The move started with Zlatan bodying Nicolás Otamendi off of a lofted pass. The Big Swede took the ball to the left side of the penalty area before laying a pass into the danger zone. Ander Herrera fiercely bodied/shielded Fernando from the pass and Juan Mata came through to apply the finishing touches and to give United a much-needed one-goal lead.

Following the goal, the Red Devils looked hungry for another, but wave after wave of United attack ended without a final product. Despite a big push from City to close out the match, Mourinho’s squad was able to hold on for a 1-0 derby win, and spirits at Old Trafford were lifted once again.

Following the match, Mourinho appeared to apologize to the Stretford End for this weekend’s 4-0 loss at Stamford Bridge, and he told reporters; “I’ve never had fans like this. We lost 4-0 and the stadium was still full. It was full of supporters, not people.”

Up next for the Red Devils in the EFL Cup (formerly known as the Carling Cup, Capital One Cup, Milk Cup, and several other weird sponsored names). is a visit from West Ham United, who they knocked out of the FA Cup last year, in the quarterfinals. In the league, Mourinho must now turn his attention to Burnley on Saturday.

For City, the loss will do little to dampen their supporters’ optimism for the rest of the season. The Cityzens are still top of the table and are still competing in the Champions League. Next up, they travel to take on Tony Pulis’ West Brom.

 

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About the author: Collin Carpio

 

I am currently a senior at the University of Missouri in the Journalism School. I have been an avid follower of Manchester United since 2006 and of course I support the Stars and Stripes. Due to my St. Louis high school allegiances, I am a big supporter of Brad Davis and Sporting KC in MLS.

 

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