Jose Mourinho suggested on Wednesday night that he would not be averse to the Carabao Cup being scrapped, primarily in the belief that one less domestic distraction could benefit English clubs in Europe. For as long as the competition remains, though, it is clear the Manchester United manager will embrace it.
From the moment he arrived in England with Chelsea in 2004, Mourinho has attached plenty of significance to the League Cup and it was no different here as the Portuguese took a purposeful first step towards retaining the trophy – and an unprecedented fifth success in the competition – as United brushed aside Burton Albion. The holders’ reward is a trip to Swansea City in the fourth round. Yet given the option, Mourinho would be happy to live without it.
“You know, if the competition is an official competition, it is important for Manchester United and for me as a manager, and I want the players to think the same way,” he said “If you ask me, ‘Could English football survive or even be better without this competition?’ Maybe. Maybe we would be fresher for European competitions, for example.
“But we have this competition, we have to respect it, we have to respect the sponsors, we have to respect the opponents, we have to respect the professionalism of all of us trying to do the best.”
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This was the fourth time in the past seven matches that United have found the net four times, although as pleasing to Mourinho as the volume of goals plundered this season – 24 in eight matches so far, for the record – was the identity of the scorers.
Mourinho has not been shy about demanding more from his attacking players. Overly dependent on Zlatan Ibrahimovic for goals last term, the manager was eager to guard against a similar situation developing with Romelu Lukaku this time around. But no one could accuse Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial of failing to answer that call to arms, at least so far anyway. Burton simply could not live with them.
Rashford took his tally to five goals in his past five games with a brace that kick-started this romp and now has almost half his total of 11 from last season, while Martial’s cool finish marked his fourth goal in just 280 minutes of football, not a bad return for a player who only got eight in the entirety of the previous campaign. In between times, another forward, Jesse Lingard, claimed his first goal of the season, albeit courtesy of a wicked deflection off Ben Turner, and Burton’s only consolation was a stoppage time goal from Lloyd Dyer.
Nigel Clough had feared the worst. The Burton manager sat down to watch United’s game against Everton on Sunday but turned it off after 10 minutes, conscious that if the Merseyside club could not get out of their half, his own players would have no chance. That attitude was reflected in his team selection. Mourinho could afford to make nine changes – the surprise was Burton made as many, not least given Clough’s rich association with the competition. He won it twice as a player with Nottingham Forest under his dad Brian, who is the only manager with Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson to have the distinction of winning this competition four times, and took Sheffield United to the semi-finals in 2015.
But Saturday’s trip to Queens Park Rangers in the Championship clearly took precedence. The stand-ins did not disgrace themselves but this was a mismatch, even if Victor Lindelof, making only his third United start, did endure a couple of hairy moments in the first half – enough to suggest he might be a while longer before Mourinho bloods the Swede in the Premier League. At the other end of the pitch, though, Burton could not contain Rashford or Martial.
Rashford had scored twice inside 17 minutes and it was clear at that stage this was going to be a long night for the Championship side. Michael Carrick, making his first start of the season, drilled a low pass into Lingard, who held off Turner and laid the ball off to Rashford to clip his shot over Connor Ripley in the Burton goal. One became two when Tom Flanagan paid the price for not getting tight to Rashford, who collected Daley Blind’s pass and darted away from the Burton defender before planting a 20-yard shot into the corner. Lukaku applauded warmly from the substitutes’ bench.
It was not entirely one-way traffic. A poor touch from Lindelof had given Luke Varney an early sight of goal and the United centre-half got himself into more bother when he lost the Burton striker, who teed up Joe Mason only for Sergio Romero to thwart his attempted chip.
Still, Burton were struggling against the pace and movement of Rashford and Martial and the guile of Juan Mata, who hit a post after nutmegging Dyer, before Martial saw a scissor kick blocked by Flanagan. The third goal finally arrived in the 37th minute when Martial exchanged a one-two with Blind, then drove forward and teed up Lingard, whose shot deflected in off Turner.
Mourinho brought on Luke Shaw for his first appearance since April 30 at half-time and switched to a three-man defence but the change did little to disrupt United’s rhythm. Martial was desperate for a goal. He had danced past two men but shot too close to Ripley but made no mistake on the hour when, after a delicious one-two with Rashford, the Frenchman finished coolly.
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Dyer scores again in the League Cup but it's not so much on the threshold of time but halfway through the door. United were very good at times, the opposition notwithstanding. Burton battled gamely but there was an understandable gulf in class. Here's Dyer's goal.
Finally the opposition score at Old Trafford this season. Akers went off up the right, played in Murphy who bent a cross into the box where it was headed on. Pereira and Blind made a right Horlicks of it and it bobbled out to Dyer who drilled his shot into the net.
Man Utd 4-1 Burton (Dyer)
Arsenal have won 1-0
Doncaster go out of the competition.
He gets it over the wall but has out too much bend on it, merely a soupçon, a wafer-thin excess. It kisses the outside of the side netting.
United free-kick juss to the left of the D. Martial to take ...
Mason takes the ball away from Herrera, takes it five steps on and rolls it to Dyer who digs out a chip and lofts it over the bar.
Lingard has done very well in the central role since half-time. It helps if you're winning so comfortably but his movement and especially his passing have been commendable.
Martial takes a diagonal pass through the inside-left channel, he takes a touch then another to try to round Ripley which perhaps takes him too for for a left-foot finish. From an angle of about 345 degrees he bends a left-foot shot towards the far post but it bends back towards the field of play.
Hope Akpan goes off for Albion to be replaced by Luke Akins. That's three Lukes on for Burton. What's your favourite gospel, Nigel?
United sub: Ronero off, a rare goalkeeping sup. On comes Joel Pereira.
Naylor yomps forward, makes 20 yards then pushes a pass out to Lund on the overlap up the right. He arcs a menacing cross to the back post that is met by Akpan, challenged by Smalling, who heads it over.
Martial is having a whale of a time, bullocking up the left, weaving towards and then away form the touchline. He loses it, though, when he makes it into the box. Instead of dropping his head, though, in fear of the hook, he smiles ruefully.
Shaw has an opportunity to shoot from 22 yards but plays the team man and curves a pass round intended for Herrera but Flanagan, in the absence of Allen who went off at half-term, makes the interception.
Lingard drops deeper to arrow a pass out to the right for McTominay who runs through to try to meet it 18 yards out but Warnock, the former Liverpool, Blackburn, Villa Leeds, Derby and England left-back, just edges him and belts the ball behind.
Martial is playing through the middle now but United are having a prolonged spell of keepball at the back.
Manchester United sub
Rashford off, McTominay on. The former hasn't scored a hat-trick yet for United but he'll have to wait.
Martial taps the ball up to Rashford by the D who takes it back to goal, controls it with his first touch and lays it into his team-mate's path with the second as he turned. Martial receives it in his stride and sweeps his shot past Ripley from 18 yards.
Manchester United 4-0 Burton Albion (Martial)
Sensational touch from Martial 10 yards outside the Burton box to control the pass and roll Flanagan by moving it forward with his sole but his shot after the slalom run, when he opened his body and aimed for the bottom right corner, wasn't pushed wide enough and gave Ripley a chance to reach it at full-stretch.
Interesting point from Danny Higginbotham noting how much Shaw can help Rashford or Martial - whoever plays on the left. That Blind doesn't have the pace and that Darmian and Young are right-footed so cut inside. But if Shaw hits full fitness and his confidence can be restored, his ability to go buzzing down the line occupies a defender and creates space for the left-winger. United are passing it around in midfield in case you were wondering.
Shaw opens up a run for Lingard with a pass into space down the right. Dogged work from Flanagan thwarts the opportunity when he snaps into a tackle to whip it away from Lingard.
Rashford sprints 20 yards to try to put the frighteners on Ripley who calmly whacks it long at the last moment. He must have felt Rashford's breath on him. The ball flies up the Albion right and Shaw controls it with a classy touch and turns away from danger.
Luke Shaw makes a tremendous run in from the left, held it by running horizontally for a while and then darted towards the box. Picked out by a superb Carrick pass he rolls it past Ripley a split-second after the referee blew. The replay shows he was on Lund's shoulder, his left foot the only thing that was offside.
Quick Burton attack after winning the ball from the kick-off. Akpan gets beyond Rashford to meet Plamer's swerving cross but wastes the service. United are playing a back three now with Lindelof-Smalling-Blind.
Three half-time changes
Luke Shaw replaces the wonderful Juan Mata for United. Burton bring on Luke Murphy and Stephen Warnock for Ben Turner and Jamie Allen.
The only negative for United so far
Has been defensively. They've let Burton's reserves have five chances, two of them gilded. It's not all Lindelof's fault but he has looked the most unconvincing of the four.
What a difference a year makes
2016-17. MUFC score 15th home goal on Nov 24th in ninth H game.
2017-18. MUFC score 15th home goal on Sept 20th after four and bit H games.
— Andy Mitten (@AndyMitten) September 20, 2017
It's raining heavily as the teams go off. Job done. Changes for the second half likely with run outs for Shaw and McTominay. Look how high Blind is and how many touches Dyer has had, consequently making Darmian the deeper of the United full-backs.
And the shot map. It's all about the accuracy ... and the frequency.
Varney takes on Carrick in a race through the box to the byline and cuts back a pass to the edge of the area. No one there.
Varney leaps for a clearance in the centre-circle and gets a good 4ft in the air. His left leg clatters into Smalling's head and Burton are given a free-kick. Smalling looks as though he's been mugged.
Slightest chance for Burton when the two Mattys team up, Palmer from the left crossing for Lund at the back stick who spoons his shot wide.
Lingard goes down in the box after haring past Turner who chased him into the area. There was a touch from the defender and we could charitably say that Lingard is such an express that the merest touch was the reason he went sprawling. But the bump wasn't enough to warrant a penalty.
It may be given as an own goal as the deflection from Turner was the key to beating Ripley but I think it was just about on target. It was made by Martial, who has been excellent. He played another neat passing move with Blind, advanced on a diagonal heading and stabbed a disguised pass through to Lingard when he looked as if he was shaping to shoot. That bit of skill diddled the defence and gave Lingard the space to hit it. It says Mata on this graphic but I'd swear it was Blind.
Man Utd 3-0 Burton (Lingard)
Some respite for Burton up the left with a spell of possession until Dyer and Varney run out of space.
Arsenal lead 1-0 at half-time
Through Walcott's goal.
Another quick turn from Mata in the box and a speared shot at Ripley that's saved. He's popping up all over the place, a ginger-bearded, philanthropic whack-a-Mata. Ripley is earning his keep.
Brilliant from Mata after United defend the corner comfortably. He receives the ball on the angle of the Burton box to the right. He sends Palmer off to buy a pint of milk with a feint and a shimmy then thrashes a left-foot shot against the foot of the post. It deflects out to Herrera who lifts it to the far post where Martial contorts himself into a scissor kick that some brave soul wears and deflects out for a corner.
Chances at both ends First Martial goes kipping through the box and take son one too many defenders, losing the ball when he could have shot a couple of seconds earlier. Then he redeems himself by setting up Rashford for a header that Ripley saves because he held his nerve and stayed upright long enough when the striker expected him to go down.
Then Burton break, Varney skins the very shaky Lindelof and squares to Mason through the six-yard box. If he lifts it over Romero, it's a goal but he doesn't get enough elevation and only gets a corner for all Varney's efforts.
Here's goal No2 for Rashford.
Rashford has a chance of a hat-trick, created by himself as he sprints down the right, beats Flanagan and flashes a shot at Ripley. Thirty seconds later Martial squares for Mata in the box, 10 yards out and he scoops his shot straight at Ripley.
Wayward pass from Lindelof from the right touchline, makes a gift of the ball to Akpan who stuns it and moves forward. Herrera bundles him down to stop the break. Free-kick to Burton's reserves who lose the ball in two phases.
Takes the ball in the inside-left position, plays a lovely triangle with Carrick and Blind. He takes the return, spins, slips Turner, takes two strides then whacks in a dippin shot that creeps in at the near post. Terrific finish again.
Man Utd 2-0 Burton (Rashford)
Martial runs back to Rob Lund. Mourinho has turned him into a much more disciplined player - but has he also trodden on his off-the-cuff creativity? Here's the goal:
Dyer is awarded a free-kick for a trip by Darmian. A trip followed by a grapple. The free-kick is parallel with the penalty spot, out on the left. It's spun to the back post with the right foot, swinging in towards the far post. Romero goes up with Mason who is penalised for shoving him.
Arsenal 1-0 Doncaster Rovers
Theo Walcott scores, controlling a 40-yard diagonal pass over the defence on the right of the box. He cushions it and belts it past the keeper.
Manchester United fans 'all hate Leeds scum'. It's been 13 years and they still sing it. Not famous any more? Right. Shot by Martial on the left of the box is well-saved by the talented Mr Ripley.
Chances at both ends: first Lingard is set free to run down the inside-right channel on a diagonal burst to meet the pass and shoot but it's blocked by a sliding defender. Burton clear and Jamie Allen gulls Mata and tries to chip Romero from 20 yards but hoists his shot on to the roof of the net.
Ball up the middle to Lingard just beyond the D. He has his back to goal and lays it off cutely to his left for Rashford who lifts a crisp shot over Ripley's dive. Good finish that, and a good pass from Lingard.
Man Utd 1-0 Burton (Rashford)
Dyer is 35 but still has the legs to keep pace with Lingard and he kettles him in the corner quadrant for a few seconds before nicking it off him.
Herrera spins off up the right and wins a throw in that comes to naught. United fans are singing their favourite Herman's Hermits song which spurs Burton into life. Lund threads a pass to the right of the area and Varney scuds a low shot straight at Romero.
Burton kick off, set up in a 3-5-2. They play it back to Flanagan who launches it 50 yards up the left, Dyer chases and wins a throw off Darmian which quickly produces another. Lingard sticks to Dyer this time and pushes him back into his own half.
Here come the teams
And therefore here comes the ad break. Speaking of which ...
Why so many changes, Nigel?
To reward the players who got us this far.
'Is this one of the best squads you've ever had, Jose?'
Line-ups in the trad style
Man Utd Romero, Darmian, Lindelof, Smalling, Blind, Carrick, Ander Herrera, Lingard, Mata, Martial, Rashford.
Substitutes Jones, Lukaku, Young, Shaw, Fellaini, McTominay, Joel Pereira.
Burton Albion Ripley, Lund, Turner, Flanagan, Naylor, Dyer, Akpan, Palmer, Allen, Mason, Varney.
Substitutes Warnock, McFadzean, Murphy, Scannell, Akins, Sordell, Campbell.
Referee Graham Scott (Oxfordshire)
Burton's fans are early birds
We're going to be keeping an eye on Arsenal v Doncaster, too
So, with that in mind, here are the teams:
Arsenal Ospina; Holding, Mertesacker, Chambers; Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Wilshere, Nelson; Walcott, Sanchez; Giroud.
Substitutes Iwobi, Monreal, Akpom, Macey, Joseph Willock, Da Silva, Nketiah.
Doncaster Rovers Lawlor, Blair, Butler, Whiteman, Wright, Kongolo, Mason, Coppinger, Rowe, Houghton, May.
Substitutes Toffolo, Alcock, Marquis, Williams, Marosi, Mandeville, Garrett.
Referee Scott Duncan (Tyne & Wear)
And here's how Burton line up
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) September 20, 2017
Carrick starts for Manchester United
And Rashford plays through the middle:
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) September 20, 2017
It's been more than 25 years since a Clough emerged victorious at Old Trafford and, painfully for United, it was a decisive defeat celebrated by Brian and Nigel when Nottingham Forest defeated title-chasing United and gave Leeds renewed hope in the title race. Nigel has been back as a manager as well as when playing for Forest, Liverpool, Manchester City when his Cpnference side lost 5-0 having held United in the home leg of their third round FA Cup tie in 2006, memorably recalled here by John Percy in conversation with Clough.
We don't have to go too far back to find an example of when United crashed out of this competition early - the 4-0 away defeat by MK Dons in round two in 2014 which flashed the first significant signs that Louis van Gaal may have lost his Midas touch. You have to go much further back, 10 years to be precise, for an exit in this round - and at home and by a Championship side. That was Coventry City, who went to Old Trafford and won 2-0 with Michael Mifsud, still in Malta's squad scoring twice.
But take a look at United's line-up from that match: Tomasz Kuszczak; Phil Bardsley, Jonny Evans, Gerard Pique, Danny Simpson; Nani, Lee Martin, John O'Shea, Chris Eagles; Anderson; Dong.
OK, I'll give you the centre-forward and perhaps Lee Martin who has had a good if not stellar career. But the rest of them were good enough, perhaps not ready enough, to cope with a Championship side. Still, by the season's end, when they had won the title for the second year running and the Champions League, memories of the visit of Cov were probably erased by the euphoria doing a Lacuna Inc job to leave them with the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind.
Jose Mourinho, a winner of this competition four times , has only one third round blemish to earse from his grey cells, the defeat by Charlton on penalties back in 2006. Of course he has grander ambitions but one thing that we should all agree is an admirable quality of the divisive Manchester United manager, he has no trophy snobbery whatsoever. If it glistens, he wants it.
Join us for the team news as soon as it drops.