It’s the cup no one cares about, and the trophy nobody dreams to win at the start of the season. It’s also the tournament in which, until a few years ago, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic would have been rested, rather than summoned for a mundane fourth round. It might also be the trophy that provides David Moyes with a much-needed confidence boost.
Having fought tooth and nail against Liverpool in the previous round, United sailed through to the fifth round tonight, their performance unexpectedly solid, considering the poor displays they had at times offered in the League Cup even under Fergie’s guidance.
Despite the inclusion of Ashley Young, there were plenty of positives in the starting XI, with Wilfried Zaha making his first official appearance for the club, while Adnan Januzaj moved up-front in support of Javier Hernandez and Phil Jones partnered Tom Cleverley in the middle of the park.
Of the three youngsters, Januzaj was by far the most impressive. The young Belgian’s talent is no longer newsworthy, but it’d be rather safe to assume that his silky touch and willingness to take on whoever decides to stand in his path are going to be received like wonderful gifts by the United fans for a while.
David Moyes will have been particularly pleased with Januzaj’s movement, as the 18-year-old showed remarkable awareness for a player of his age, constantly dropping deep to demand the ball and often proving to be the catalyst for United’s attacks which, surprisingly enough, came with a regularity we had not yet witnessed this season.
United’s bright start was rewarded 18 minutes into the first half when Leroy Fer’s silly challenge on Januzaj gave Javier Hernandez the chance to put his team in front from the spot.
The Mexican duly obliged, grabbing the goal that had eluded him only a couple of minutes when he had spun away from his marker only to be denied by a desperate tackle from Sebastien Bassong, after some brilliant work from Zaha.
The former Palace man showed plenty of pace and his ability to get in behind his man justified the many who had implored Moyes to give the 20-year-old a chance, but the United manager’s decision to utilise his winger with parsimony was also vindicated, as Zaha clearly showed to be a very raw, albeit clearly talented, prospect.
Meanwhile, Zaha’s colleague on the other wing, Ashley Young, contributed to reaffirm the notion that he’s neither raw nor particularly talented and even though he fared a lot better than in previous appearances, one has to wonder whether his United career hasn’t entered the home straight.
Having threatened to add a second goal before halftime, United doubled their lead soon after the restart when Alexander Buttner picked out Hernandez with a sumptous cross. The Mexican saw his first header brilliantly saved by Mark Bunn but was able to head in the rebound, before Robert Snodgrass suffered what appeared to be a severe injury at the other end of the pitch.
With three minutes of normal time remaining, there was time for Phil Jones to register his first goal since 2011 with a brilliant volley after Norwich had failed to clear a corner, before Wayne Rooney and Fabio, who had both come on as substitutes, combined superbly as the Brazilian rounded the scoreline.
After Saturday’s ordeal, it was a much more composed performance by United and even though the occasion lacked the importance of a Premier League or of a European game, David Moyes will be pleased with the response and, perhaps more importantly, with another win, which extends his unbeaten run to six games.
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