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Manchester United ended their three-game losing streak on Wednesday with a 3-1 win over Northampton in the third round of the EFL Cup.
Manager Jose Mourinho made a bunch of changes to his starting lineup, switching out nine players from the 3-1 loss to Watford over the weekend. Captain Wayne Rooney and centre back Chris Smalling were the only players that retained their place in the starting XI, with Rooney playing as the central striker.
United had trouble breaking down the League One side, who dropped down deep in defense. United were gifted a golden opportunity in the 18th minute when they were given an indirect free kick after Northampton goalkeeper Adam Smith handled the ball on a back pass. Rooney’s shot went off the wall and fell to Michael Carrick who scored his first goal of the season with a nice strike from just inside the penalty area.
Northampton tied things up from the penalty spot in the 41st minute through Alex Revell after a clumsy challenge by Daley Blind inside the penalty area. United brought on Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford in the 55th minute, and Rashford set up Ander Herrera for the go ahead goal in the 68th minute. But it wasn’t a convincing win for the Red Devils by any means. Rashford capitalized on a huge error by Smith in the 79th minute to round off the scoring.
But after losing three straight games, the main thing for United was to get a win under their belt and start building some confidence. Mourinho said after the match that he did expect his side to win.
“We deserved it. It was as I was expecting,” Mourinho said. “We were totally in control for the first 35 minutes and then we were back in control for the last 25 minutes.”
Mourinho did give Northampton some praise for making thing difficult for the Red Devils.
“As a team we had control from the beginning,” Mourinho said. “I think the substitutions were just a contribution and, overall, the team was completely in control. The game could and should have been easier, because normally it is easier against 10 men – we should have been playing against 10 men very early in the second half. But they fought and they played with their strength. They tried to cause us problems, which they did at times, so it was a difficult match but overall it was a positive performance.”
The problem is that not too many of the players that featured against Northampton will be in the lineup that takes the field against reigning champions Leicester City on Saturday. Rashford had a good showing in the second half, and the youngster should be a given in the starting XI going forward. Rooney had a subpar performance, and if Mourinho decides to go with a different formation and play with either three central midfielders or two strikers, then Rooney should be the odd man out. He wasn’t convincing at all playing as the central striker, and if they go with two strikers, then Ibrahimovic and Rashford should be the pairing up front.
Michael Carrick had a good game, and the veteran might be the right man to put in with Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini if they would go with three players in the middle. Despite his fine showing, Mourinho didn’t want to single out Carrick.
“I don’t want to individualize too much, I think he was fine and I think the midfield worked really well in the control of the game,” Mourinho said. “I changed Schneiderlin to Marouane to try to stop what I know was going to happen with our opponent losing 2-1, which was for them to put long balls into the box and waiting for set pieces. But I think collectively the team was fine.”
United takes on rivals Manchester City in the fourth round of the EFL Cup.