Wednesday 8 January 2020

United down but not quite out yet ahead of second leg

If United do go on to reach the Carabao Cup final for the second time in four years, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side will look back on the 70th minute of this one as the turning point. It would need a comeback for the ages, one that Lazarus would be proud of but you can never, ever write Manchester United off.

3-0 down by the break, all hope seemed lost. United had failed to lay a glove or even a fingerprint on Pep Guardiola's Manchester City slickers. The game, and the two legged tie was over even before the halfway point of this double header with the men from across the road. Then United finally put together a decent move, Mason Greenwood found Marcus Rashford and United - however slim - had the smallest glimmer of light. Something to cling to, a foothold on the rockface to start the climb to a distant, seemingly insurmountable summit. The tiniest light at the end of a very long tunnel.

We still need to go to the Etihad and win by two clear goals even to get this to extra-time and I simply can't see it, but cast your minds back to this time last year and Paris. Rashford. 95th minute. The Impossible dream made possible. We did it against PSG, so why not again? The fabric, the DNA and the very shirt of this great club has taught us to never give up and always believe.
If United make the League Cup final from this position, it would surely eclipse everything to have gone before. Rashford's well-taken 17th goal of the season will surely only prove to be a consolation. But it could also prove to be the seminal moment of this tie. It might be a moment to provide the launchpad for another epic, climb-off-the-canvas, snatch victory from the jaws of defeat turnaround. If we can grab the first goal at the Etihad, it's game on!

The side from across the city had been ripped apart and pulled from pillar to post by the Reds electric attacking play when these sides met at the Etihad in the league last month - but showed they had learned their lesson. Whereas they had no answer to our raw speed on the break in the league game, this time it was the visitors craft and creativity that did the damage time and time again.
United were the ones to be left punch drunk as Guardiola's rejigged and strikerless 4-4-2 system worked to a T.

He had surprised many observers with not only his personnel changes but the formation too - with Messrs Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez constantly swapping positions. Fluidly interchanging, the quartet were impossible to pick up and mark, frequently dropping deep to leave United outnumbered in midfield and render the efforts of Brazilian duo Fred and Andreas Pereira almost anonymous. Solskjaer left it until the break to bring on Nemanja Matic and assert a modicum of control in the engine room. Guardiola did not repeat his mistakes at the Etihad where his tactical shortcomings played straight into our hands.

Aside from the goal, there were not many positives on a night that only emphasised the gulf in class between the two sides, financially, managerially and in terms of pound for pound quality. Man City are better than us, we know that, and there's no disgrace in losing to the second best team in England and one of the best on the continent. But at least we didn't crumble completely and showed admirable fight and courage in the second half.
United are, somehow, still in the tie by their fingertips but this should be seen as a reminder of how urgently we need reinforcements, even if they will come at a hefty price that the hierarchy won't like.

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