The goals rained down once more at Old Trafford as Manchester United thrashed West Ham United 4-1 in their English Football League quarter-final clash on Wednesday.
The only problem? They did not rain down only three days prior against the same opposition!
A common problem for United this season, frustrating Premier League draws in which United absolutely dominate their opponents have been sandwiched by goal-filled wins in the Europa League and EFL Cup, and so that continued at Old Trafford.
If United’s 1-1 draw with West Ham in the league on the weekend was annoying to say the least, the EFL Cup throttling was anything but, as United played arguably their best attacking football of the season.
What’s more, they did it without Jose Mourinho on the touchline, Paul Pogba in midfield and Marcus Rashford up front.
Instead, a revitalised Wayne Rooney looked more like his old warrior self, Henrikh Mkhitaryan turned in a massive performance and Anthony Martial got back among the goals with a brace.
All in all, it made for a top night at Old Trafford.
Here are our five lessons from the game.
ROONEY NEEDS TO KEEP THE FIRE
Ask most United fans, or indeed football fans in general, when Rooney played his best football and almost everyone will say it was in his teens to early 20s, a time when the young striker was taking the sport by storm.
The young, fiery Rooney was more akin to a hurricane than a storm, though.
The older he got and the more his recklessness looked to draw the ire of his coaches, particularly Sir Alex Ferguson, as the bookings and suspensions piled up, that fire was coaxed out of the striker and it has only made fleeting appearances since.
Wednesday night was one of those times.
Rooney scrapped and fought for every touch of the ball and that fighting spirit seemed to bring the best out of him when he managed to bring the ball under his spell.
His sublime pass to Mkhitaryan, who would go on to back-heel the assist for Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s opener, was first-class stuff, and the image of a raging Rooney fuming at the referee as blood poured down his cheek was just vintage Wazza.
Another good performances capped a strong week from the man set to become United’s all-time leading goalscorer, following on from his terrific game against Feyenoord in the Europa League last week and a strong showing against West Ham in the league.
MKHITARYAN – INSTANT STARTER
If Mourinho was not convinced of Mkhitaryan’s merits after the game against Feyenoord, then he must surely be now.
Two assists were no fluke for the Armenian international who once again looked a class above, even in a game full of exceptional United performances.
Mkhitaryan’s sublime back-heel assist for the opener and then his role in setting up Martial’s second goal and United’s third on the night were just two fleeting, but important, examples of what he brings to the team.
An instinctive eye for the pass and the flair to pull off the sublime, Mkhitaryan is a dashing combination of outrageous touch, glorious vision, dangerous dribbling and lethal execution. Perhaps the lack of Premier League goals and his absence are more closely linked than previously thought.
MARTIAL’S MUCH-NEEDED BOOST
Second-season blues have well and truly knocked Martial about this season.
The 20-year old French prodigy took United by storm last season when he arrived under the suspicion of a monstrous fee from AS Monaco, but repaid the faith with a string of stunning performances.
But, as perhaps should have been suspected, the second time around has been somewhat tougher for the youngster.
Stripped of the number nine shirt he served so well in was the first knock as United welcomed Ibrahimovic into the fold. Sure, it’s just a number, and taking on the famous number 11 is in no way an insult, but being stripped of your number is never a nice experience.
Off-field drama in his personal life seemed to further rattle Martial, as increased competition from Ibrahimovic, Rashford and even Jesse Lingard have made minutes hard to come by.
But 90 minutes is a long time in football and if used effectively, it can completely change the perception the manager might have of you. Martial did not see out the whole game, but his two goals and incisive attacking play will surely go a long way to restoring Mourinho’s faith in him.
MOURINHO SELECTION QUESTIONS
The most striking aspect of the win was just how well the supposed Mourinho outcasts performed.
Mkhitaryan and Martial were the obvious stand-outs, but so too was Michael Carrick – who until recently has barely featured this season – and the defensive combination of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo.
Trying to assess just how good or bad this United squad is must be a frustrating experience for Mourinho, because as quickly as players let him down, they impress him once again when given another chance.
That certainly applies to Martial and Mkhitaryan, begging the question, was Mourinho too quick to cast them aside?
You could even ask the same thing of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who finally got a run-out, albeit a short one, for United as he replaced the French goalscorer.
The former German international and World Cup winner showed his class with some lovely touches and was greeted with an amazing reception from the Stretford End. Mourinho never seemed willing to give the midfielder a chance and while no-one is suggesting he should be the first name on the team sheet, surely he has some role to play in the first-team squad.
REFEREES CONTINUE TO GET IT WRONG
It is official. This is already the worst season of officiation United has had to endure in a long, long time.
Thankfully, it had no effect on the result this time out, but United were denied at least one clear penalty, as Winston Reid threw his boot so high he lashed Rooney’s cheek. Now, I know that what constitutes a “high boot” is somewhat subjective, but if you’re getting kicked in the face, chances are it’s a high boot.
Much earlier than that West Ham goalkeeper Adrian somehow avoided a red card after planting his studs in Ibrahimovic’s knee, well after he dispatched United’s opener. Now, I know that Ibrahimovic scored and no real harm was done, but honestly, if his foot had been planted in the ground when Adrian connected, it would have been season over for Ibrahimovic and the more you watch it, the clearer it becomes that the keeper moved his foot towards the Swede after he had taken his shot.
It is becoming increasingly unfathomable that the referees can continue to miss so many painstakingly clear gross fouls against United.