Manchester United recorded a thumping 4-1 win over West Ham United at Old Trafford on Wednesday to advance to the semi-finals of the EFL Cup.
It was their second meeting in less than 100 hours as Manchester United played hosts to a West Ham United side that held them to a 1-1 draw over the weekend at Old Trafford. Only, this time, it was a cup tie, meaning that game would not end a draw.
Manchester United made sure their fans would not see a repeat of the weekend as a brace each from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Anthony Martial powered the Red Devils to a 4-1 win over the Hammers, despite the absence of Paul Pogba, who was serving a 1-game suspension after accruing his fifth yellow card of the season.
The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at few of the significant talking points from Wednesday’s EFL Cup fixture.
Zealous Zlatan crosses reaches double figures for the season
Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues to defy all odds. A 35-year-old leading the front-line of a giant like Manchester United is almost unheard of. But Zlatan has carried out his duties with aplomb. The Swede started out brilliantly, hit a rough patch. But it looks like he has restored his previous form as he scored 2 goals and, in general, was a constant threat for the Hammers’ defence.
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) November 30, 2016
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Has scored 4 goals in his last 4 appearances having only scored 1 goal in his previous 11 matches in all competitions
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) November 30, 2016
During his recent dry spell, there were questions about the player’s ability to lead the line on a consistent basis. But his performance on Wednesday would have definitely shut a lot of the haters. Not only did the veteran score twice, but he was a constant part of the buildup and it was his beautiful pass that set up Antonio Valencia on the wing, who crossed the ball for Anthony Martial to slot it home.
Zlatan now has 10 goals in all competitions, disregarding the Community Shield fixture, with more than half of the season yet to unravel. And even during his dry spell, Zlatan’s playmaking skill and influence in the buildup was second to none.
Anthony Martial, a name that had made headlines upon his arrival and debut, seems to have been almost forgotten among the echelons of the dressing room at Old Trafford. There were rumours that the Frenchman, who was one of the brighter spots of the previous season, was in his last chance saloon under Jose Mourinho.
But his performance looks like he isn’t going anywhere just yet. Even though both his goals resembled that of a poacher, it showed the Frenchman’s drive and willingness to run past the last defender despite being deployed on the wings. The player was mesmerising on the night and his performance was reminiscent of the Magique Martial Old Trafford is used to seeing.
Anthony Martial has now scored 20 goals in all competitions for Man United; more than any other player at the club since he joined. pic.twitter.com/wDPEVE6Fi1
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 30, 2016
It will take a bit more, it feels, to convince Mourinho to reinstate the Frenchman’s status as a starter, but the performance on Wednesday against a foe he seems to enjoy playing against would go a long way in staking a claim for a place on the team sheet on the weekend on a regular basis.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s arrival created a flutter in the English Premier League, for Manchester United now had three Player of the Year players from different leagues – Zlatan from France, Pogba from Italy and Mkhitaryan from Germany. But the player, as has been the case on previous occasions in the Armenian’s career, has been slow to find his feet.
Mourinho also said the playmaker needs time and it looks like that was all he really needed. The player has started two mid-week fixtures in a row now, with two Man of the Match outings to show for his efforts.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan after getting back into the Manchester United team:
Games: 2 ⚽️
Assists: 2 🎯
Man of the Match: 2 🏆 pic.twitter.com/xkXvM4XThw
— Footy Jokes (@Footy_Jokes) December 1, 2016
On Wednesday, while the scoresheet read Zlatan and Martial, it was Mkhitaryan who was the creator, at large. The first goal, especially, was pure bliss as Henrikh placed a wonderfully weighted back-heel pass into the path of Zlatan, who found himself with just the keeper to beat and did it with aplomb.
He grabbed another assist on the night and in general kept running at the Hammers’ defence with gumption. The attack looked in perfect harmony and even though Hembree, a music band, wrote the song Can’t Run Forever, looks like United have found one player, in Mkhitaryan, who can.
And he seems like he is just getting started.
Bastian Schweinsteiger looked long gone from the first-team setup, a fact confirmed by Jose Mourinho in his press conferences. But recently, Bastian made a return to first-team training and was even named on the bench over the weekend. Wednesday gave the veteran some renewed hope of finding some game time at Manchester United, something which he has persisted is all he wants and is prepared to fight for.
QUALITY: Bastian Schweinsteiger receives emotional applause from the Old Trafford faithful as he comes on..pic.twitter.com/3vWf43Ki2h
— BenchWarmers (@BeWarmers) November 30, 2016
Bastian came on to a huge round of applause in the end moments of the game and even came close to getting on the scoresheet. The veteran, though, did not let this rare opportunity go without proving he has what it takes. He got on the end of a quickly taken throw-in and provided a wonderful pass in a buildup that ended up with Zlatan finding the back of the net.
It wouldn’t hurt for Mourinho to add another midfield option in his first-team setup for the foreseeable future.
The crisis seems to have no end for Slaven Bilic
Even though West Ham rescued a point over the weekend against Manchester United, their performances have been largely underwhelming this season and the 4-1 defeat to Manchester United sees them crash out of the EFL Cup too. The defeat will not do a whole lot of good to the morale of the squad, which is already likely to be low.
— West Ham United (@WestHamUtd) November 30, 2016
The only bright spot was Ashley Fletcher, who made a few good runs and got on the end of a rare mistake from David De Gea to put West Ham level in the first half. But it is the overall play that is lacking and it is something that Slaven Bilic needs to address if he is to power the Hammers back up to the top end of the table.