Apparently, Paul Clement was sacked last night but it barely made a ripple on the football news Richter scale, because United suffered one of their worst defeats in living memory, going down 2-1 at Ashton Gate to Championship high flyers, Bristol City. Following Arsenal and Man City’s progression the night before, it was supposed to be inevitable that the semi final line up would be 4 of the top 6 clubs and give the Carabao Cup some much needed credibility, but instead it was turned completely on its head.
Jose Mourinho confirmed before the game he wouldn’t make many changes as the opposition were a good team and he wanted to progress, so when the team sheet arrived and he had made 10 changes, it was a surprise to everyone and more evidence that the man talks complete tripe. The only survivor from the league win at West Brom was Marcus Rashford, but the side was still a strong one. On first glance, it seemed he was going back to a 3-5-2 formation but instead, Daley Blind was used in midfield, something he had not done for the club in over 2 years. The other notable changes was a first start since April for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba returned following his suspension.
The visit of United was a big one for City, but maybe something the supporters should get used to since they are sitting pretty in third in the Championship, but Ashton Gate was full and rocking as the teams made their way out. The atmosphere seemed to give the home side a lift as they were by far the better side in the first half. United, just like Sunday, lacked energy, drive, urgency and importantly on this occasion, respect for the opposition. City pushed high up on the United defence and caused the back 4 trouble all evening, no more so than Matteo Darmian who had a horror evening and I will be amazed if he plays another game for United. The impressive Joe Bryan time and again sailed past the Italian full back in the first half but unfortunately Darmian was not the only one. Blind and his holding midfield partner, Scott Mctominay also endured a bad night, time and again failing to track midfield runners. For all of City’s good play, they didn’t cause too many big saves from Sergio Romero and it was United who came closest to scoring. Some good work down the left hand side, once again United’s biggest threat, from Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial, resulted in a pin point cross from the Frenchman, finding Zlatan at the back post. His mistimed finish cannoned into the City defender and off the crossbar. Not too long after, United again struck the woodwork, this time Rashford, coming off of his right flank, worked it nicely to find space and unleash a right footed strike that was unfortunate to come back of the inside of the post. United didn’t deserve to be in front on the base of play, but they could easily have gone in a couple of goals to the good. As the half came to a close, Korey Smith popped up, unmarked in the United box and looked odds on to score, only or Blind to make a brilliant recovery an toe the ball away from Smith with the goal at his mercy.
Zlatan did not look to be fully fit, but also it could be that his age and last season’s injury is finally catching up with him, but it was obvious from his first half performance that Lukaku is rightly United’s number 1 striker, purely because of his ability to move into much more dangerous positions all over the pitch. Pogba also had a poor half, looking like he wanted to prove he was bigger and better than his opposition rather than keep it simple. Pogba’s greatest assets are his passing and running ability, but instead, too often he wants to boost his ego by beating players when he needn’t have to. This part of his game stuck out like a sore thumb on Wednesday night and came across as arrogance and complete disrespect for City.
Mourinho seemed to get the message across to his players at half time that they were far to passive and lackadaisical in the first half and his side dominated the play a lot more after the break. The early moments saw United’s play take place more closely to the City penalty area and drawing a couple of fouls in a dangerous position. Rashford had one effort deflected off of Smith that caused Luke Steele into a good reaction save to keep his side level. But it didn’t stay level for long as City broke and scored a wonderful goal, as Bryan got free on the right side of the box and smashed a beautiful left footed drive into the top corner, leaving Romero no chance. Although a great goal from their point of view, the defending, as it was all night, was atrocious, as replays showed Bryan picking the ball up inside his own half and then make a run past 4 United players without any of them tracking it, as they did all night.
The upset was on the cards but only 5 minutes later, United were level following a dubious free kick award on Pogba. The normal ego’s circled round the free kick just outside the area and the biggest of them all stepped up, as Zlatan smashed the ball through the weak City wall, resulting in Steele seeing the ball late and unable to keep it out. It was typical Zlatan, hardly doing anything of positive note in the game, but the goal will no doubt make his performance stand out as one of the better ones, but in fact it was one of the worst.
From that point the game opened up and for United some good opportunities came their way. Mourinho chucked on Romelu Lukaku and Henrikh Mkhitaryan for Blind and Zlatan and immediately they looked more dangerous. Pogba playing deeper looks a different player than further forward and he created a great chance for Lukaku, as his header was well saved by Steele. It was the same combination and outcome not too long later, as this time Lukaku’s shot through the legs of a coupe of City defenders was brilliantly tipped wide. United looked like they may force a winner, but as the clock ticked into injury time, the roof came off of Ashton Gate and a roar reverberated round the dark Bristol sky, as Smith, popped up inside the United box, just like he did first half, only this time no one took it off his toe and he slotted in under the on rushing Romero to give City a deserved win and semi final place against the the other half of Manchester.
Lee Johnson’s men were excellent and showed they could easily perform in the Premier League if they were to continue their promotion push, but United were terrible and the manager should take a long hard at himself, players and priorities. United are all but out of the league and should be looking at the cups as a chance of silverware, but instead Mourinho made too many changes and played players who just could not perform together on the night. We all know Rashford can not play wide right, playing 2 holding midfield players was unnecessarily negative, Zlatan does not offer enough as a lone striker and the defence was simply awful. Mourinho will no doubt make big changes for Saturday evening’s game at Leicester, but this result could seriously impact on the season to come.