By Matthew Galea
A sweet, sweet win!
Yes, it was against Northampton Town, yes they are two divisions below Manchester United, no, I do not care.
A win, is a win, is a win as they say and that seems more pertinent a point after three straight losses.
Jose Mourinho was left full of praise for his team, which featured Michael Carrick for the first time with unsurprisingly good results, much to the horror of the media chomping at the bit for him to criticise someone.
Instead, everything was largely positive. Especially if you ignore two 10-minute periods either side of half-time where United were largely horrible.
Unfortunately, we cannot ignore that, so here are five things we learned from United’s 3-1 English Football League Cup win over Northampton.
ROONEY SHOULD NOT START AGAINST LEICESTER
Let us start with the negatives.
I was actually pleased to see Wayne Rooney get a start as United’s leading forward. As I wrote in my column on Wednesday, I think Rooney should only ever play as a forward because that is where he has, throughout his entire career, been the most effective.
But that was not the case against Northampton and that means, coupled with his last two very poor displays as a number 10 against Manchester City and then Watford in the Premier League, he cannot possibly start against champions Leicester City on Saturday.
Rooney had a glorious chance to open the scoring minutes into the game on Wednesday night which he missed before turning in a largely anonymous performance.
Surely, he does not start ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the weekend as a number nine and surely he does not get the nod at number 10 again this weekend.
ALARMS AT THE BACK
How did this happen?
After such a strong start to the season, United look at sixes and sevens at the back. One average game against a brilliant Manchester City and suddenly, all our defenders look bereft of confidence.
Eric Bailly turned in an error-strewn performance against Watford, while Chris Smalling hardly looked comfortable on the left side of central defence.
Back in his preferred right slot next to the returning Daley Blind, things looked similarly uncomfortable in the periods where Northampton got on top in midfield. Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s struggles can perhaps be attributed to rustiness, while Marcos Rojo’s exceptional ability at being utterly useless is nothing new, but the performances of Smalling and Blind will certainly cause some concern for Mourinho.
MIDFIELD SOLUTION THE MOST OBVIOUS?
In the search for the perfect balance in midfield, Mourinho might have overlooked the most obvious solution.
A player who has anchored the middle of the park at Old Trafford with amazing success for the better part of a decade. A player who can seamlessly link midfield and attack, play penetrating passes through the heart of defence and hit their mark. A player like Michael Carrick.
The 35-year-old might be getting on in years but he has not lost a dash of class.
It was not that long ago that Carrick was being linked with a spectacular move down under to team-up with former West Ham United academy buddy and former Socceroo Richard Garcia, and it’s a good thing for the rest of the A-League he opted to stay in Manchester.
Carrick would have cut Aussie defences to ribbons with his passing.
The League Cup was always the logical place to give Carrick his first 90 minutes and the former England international – so horribly underutilised by his country in favour of players like Scott Parker (seriously) – but on the back of his performance, which included an absolute screamer to put United 1-0 up, I am not sure how you could ignore him for a starting spot against Leicester City.
I know it was only Northampton, I know he is not as mobile as he once was (which was never his strongest attribute anyway), but boy can the guy pass and just control the tempo of the game.
Where did that come from? ⚽️😂
Nice to score, even better to win.
Great to hear the fans in full voice.
Safe trip home 👍🏼 pic.twitter.com/fH5SAEeh5v
— Michael Carrick (@carras16) September 21, 2016
Seriously. How can you not love this guy?
HERRERA IN THE MIX
And while Carrick was obviously very good, you have to give a special mention to Ander Herrera.
He more than made up for Carrick’s relative lack of movement with his terrific energy, putting in the hard yards to cover every blade of grass on the pitch.
The Spaniard complements that work ethic with some lovely skill as well and I for one would love to see him take on the hard running in a midfield trio alongside Carrick and Paul Pogba.
That might just be the perfect combination to unleash the Frenchman on opposition defences.
If Rooney looks a lot like a headless chook at the moment, Marcus Rashford looks like a chook with its head well and truly on its neck.
Rashford combines all the hustle and bustle that Rooney wants to provide with an actual end product – and to that end he must surely start against Leicester City.
The manner in which he ran down a hopeless long ball from Herrera which the Spaniard had done well just to keep in play was exemplary of why the teenager has endeared himself to so many United fans already.
His calculated gamble paid off brilliantly, forcing the error from the Northampton goalkeeper to score the easiest goal of his career.
That makes it debut goals in the Europa League, Premier League, Manchester derby, as well as for England and England under-21 and now the League Cup.
Well in, lad.