Manchester United progressed to the fourth round of the FA Cup, thanks to goals from Jesse Lingard and Romelu Lukaku. United had made tough work of the game, missing a number of presentable chances, before Lingard put them in front with a superb finish from outside the box. Lukaku’s late finish ensured that United will be in the hat for the fourth-round draw, and they now have a week in Dubai to enjoy.
Here are some of the major talking points from the game –
Lingard in blistering form
Jesse Lingard has gone from squad player to one of the first names on the team-sheet, in the space of little over a month. This was his eight goal in the last ten games, almost all of which have been crucial, game-defining strikes. Here too, he offered his usual work-rate and intensity of the ball, pressing relentlessly throughout the game, before settling Old Trafford’s nerves with a pinpoint shot which left Scott Carson with no chance. Lingard’s improvement is undoubtedly one of Mourinho’s biggest success stories, belying the usual criticisms that he doesn’t work well with young players. The Warrington-born lad is a jovial presence around the dressing room as well, forging strong friendships with Pogba, Rashford, Martial and Lukaku, and he is quietly turning into one of United’s most influential players.
Profligacy almost costs United
United left it extremely late to win the game here, missing a host of chances to have put Derby away. Marcus Rashford, in particular, was guilty of this; firing an early opportunity over the bar, before planting a header onto the post when unmarked. Paul Pogba and Juan Mata both had freekicks saved by Scott Carson, while Lingard too could have scored; all of this in the first half alone. United continued to waste presentable opportunities in the second half, and may have been punished if Derby had carried any sort of threat. As it was, the two goals were enough to see the Red Devils through, but they need to start taking their chances to avoid results like the three-game draw streak that stalled their momentum in December.
Mkhitaryan’s time looks to be up
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was given a chance to impress here with a spot in the starting lineup. If that was a bit of a surprise, given how Mourinho looked to have frozen him out, it was an even bigger surprise to see the Armenian hooked at half-time, in a game where he had actually not been too bad. It’s a measure of how far his stock has fallen, however, that a decent performance is seen as an improvement. Mkhitaryan had been horrendous in the 0-0 draw against Southampton, constantly overhitting crosses from the left, while here he at least found his man on a couple of occasions, and offered incisive movement at times. Mourinho did apologize publicly for this substitution after the game; however, Mkhitaryan’s confidence looks to be shot, and it would be the biggest surprise of all he was still a United player beyond this season.