Manchester United progressed to the next round of the League Cup thanks to goals from Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood. It was far from a completely fantastic outing for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team but it was nonetheless a professional job done with more minutes in the bank.
Harry Maguire had two wasteful moments – one with a long range shot and shortly after with a misplaced pass near his own goal. Then Lingard did well and van de Beek dummied; Mata took the shot but it was saved.
Cute passing movements which invariably involved the new signing and Mata were frequently punctuated by unsteady moments in the United defence – a genuine concern considering this is an affliction capable of undermining United whoever the opponent is. Those moments of encouragement gave Luton confidence in the knowledge that their opponent was not invincible.
Before half time, United exerted themselves with a short period of sustained pressure. On the second phase of their attack Brandon Williams was felled in the box by George Moncur (son of John, he who was both the wearer of some Cantona studs to his midriff from his Swindon days, and owner of the last Cantona shirt worn as a United player from his West Ham days). Those who observed Williams at the lower levels at United would have been familiar with the way he won the penalty.
From the kick, Juan Mata scored.
The second half began at pedestrian pace and just after the hour mark United had another flurry; Lingard had an effort cleared off the line by his impressive former team-mate Ryan Tunnicliffe and then Matic saw a long range effort saved.
Solskjaer made a triple change with 12 minutes left, taking off the two most impressive outfield players. Luton reacted quickly whilst United were organising themselves – Henderson was forced into a smart save and from the rebound Bailly had to clear off the line.
The manager could not have been impressed by his team’s failure to create good chances from open play against a team of this quality.
It needed the substitutes to combine for Marcus Rashford to settle the tie with two minutes left for the game’s moment of true quality yet as good as it was to see the striker get his name back on the scoresheet the question will inevitably be asked : will we see a return to form in the more senior games?
Mason Greenwood then did what he does best; taking it on in the box and beating defenders before finishing smartly and giving the scoreline a cruel gloss for the hosts. It was a flattering scoreline for United but Solskjaer may well see it as job done.
It will take a more convincing performance in the Premier League to turn such a performance into points.
Still, a look on the positive side, with the caveat that it was only Luton – it was nice to see Rashford and Greenwood have those exciting moments at the end.
As if to underline the conclusion that you can’t make any conclusions about this current scenario, the game was Solskjaer’s 50th win as United manager. It means only Ernest Magnall and Jose Mourinho have reached that milestone quicker.
It’s a number that accounts for the general weakness of the Premier League and a number that suggests Solskjaer is doing better than some give credit for. More than anything it is a number which says you’re always better off trusting the evidence of your eyes and forming your own opinion. It is not clear cut that things are moving in the right direction but the root of the current issue at United does not start with the manager.
Several members of the United senior set up were given starts in order to get match fitness. But the team also desperately needed some form. Solskjaer made ten changes with only Maguire keeping his place, though it could be said that at least three more players are in contention for a proper starting place.
Of the supporting cast, Brandon Williams stated a good case for himself, as did Fred, though one does wonder if Lingard and Ighalo did enough to say they deserve places in the squad. Mata, decent though he was, appears to be at this point in his career where this is his level.
Van de Beek 7