Manchester United booked their place in the semi-finals of the EFL Cup tonight by cruising past West Ham curtesy of braces from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Anthony Martial. The Reds will face Hull City home and away in January whilst the other semi sees Southampton play Liverpool.
West Ham’s second visit to Old Trafford in four days started dreadfully, in contrast to Sunday when they opened the scoring within two minutes. This time around it was the hosts who scored early on; Rooney did well in midfield to find Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The Armenian managed to cleverly backheel the ball into Ibrahimovic’s path, and the forward showed good composure to finish past an onrushing Adrian to make it 1-0. Replays showed that the Hammers’ keeper caught Zlatan on his knee with studs showing but no punishment was given by the referee.
It didn’t take long for United to create another big chance from another sweeping move, again Zlatan broke through with options either side but his shot was too central and Adrian did well to beat it away. Anthony Martial looked lively from the off and troubled West Ham with a couple of direct runs, one of which resulted in free kick which called Adrian into action again.
The travelling fans had little to shout about until they levelled the scoring through ex-United youngster Ashley Fletcher on thirty-five minutes. It came from nowhere really, an overlapping run from Aaron Cresswell opened up the space for the talismanic Dimitri Payet to cut in and shoot. It was a venomous strike which David De Gea could only parry to Fletcher who was on his toes to tap into the net infront of the Stretford End. Although Payet hit it well, a goalkeeper of De Gea’s callibre would expect to do better.
Mourinho, watching on from the stands following his touch line ban, introduced Daley Blind at halftime in place of (the presumably injured) Luke Shaw.
West ham began the second half equally sluggishly and United didn’t hesitate to capitalise. Possession was sloppily given back to the hosts, and with the defence napping Valencia found the impressive Mkhitaryan with another backheel. The midfielder laid a pass perfectly on a plate for Martial to drive the ball emphatically into the top left corner. It was just what the Frenchman needed having endured a difficult second season so far.
Man United continued to dominate and the Hammers offered very little on the counter attack. Adrian was forced into a couple of smart saves; firstly from Anthony Martial and then from a driven Ibrahimovic free kick. The Reds killed the game off in the 62nd minute when Martial made it 3-1. Ibrahimovic slid an exquisite ball through to Valencia on the right hand side of the box, the full-back’s low cross found Martial drifting in from the opposite side and he made no mistake of dispatching it for his second of the game.
West ham showed signs of a revival but any hope they had was extinguished by long periods of possession from the home side. The game rather fizzled out; a cameo appearance for Bastian Schweinsteiger livened up the crowd who cheered his every touch, this was his first involvement under the Mourinho regime. Rooney half-heartedly appealed for a penalty when Winston Reid’s flailing leg caught him on the forehead, leaving him with a cut to his cheek.
There was still time for United to add a fourth goal, and a second for their big Swede. Quick thinking by Rooney with a throw-in released Schweinsteiger, who in turn sent Ander Herrera into the box. He jinked his way past Ogbonna before teeing up Zlatan for a tap-in to round off an inspiring performance from himself and the team.
Fans will be relishing a cup final showdown with rivals Liverpool, but United must focus on stringing together some league wins starting with Everton away at the weekend.