A much-changed and much-improved Manchester United banished the spectre of their disjointed performance against Brighton just four days ago in the Premier League by comfortably beating the same opposition 3-0 to move into the 2020-21 Carabao Cup quarter-finals.
Scott McTominay’s first-half goal gave the Red Devils the lead before Juan Mata and Paul Pogba added to the score in the second half as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men booked their place in the quarter-finals of the competition.
Both teams had vastly changed squads and had their moments of promise in the first half without troubling either goalkeeper before McTominay broke the deadlock on the cusp of half-time. Mata’s inswinging free-kick from the right flank was met perfectly by the young midfielder whose header arrowed past Jason Steele and into the Brighton net.
The second half saw Brighton push for an equaliser. They forced a remarkable save out of Dean Henderson in the Manchester United goal only for Mata at the other end to double United’s lead in the 73rd minute.
The Spaniard, who was played in by a delightful back-heel flick from Donny van de Beek, showed great composure to slide his shot between the legs of Lewis Dunk into the bottom right corner.
The night got even better for Manchester United as Pogba also got his name onto the scoresheet in the 80th minute, curling a peach of a free-kick in at the near post, albeit via a deflection off Joel Veltman in the Brighton wall.
Eventually, the game finished 3-0 in favour of the away side, which was a much more convincing result as compared to their last-gasp win when the two sides clashed in the Premier League on Saturday.
Solskjaer’s men take several positives from this game into their upcoming Premier League clash against Jose Mourinho’s Spurs on Sunday while Brighton have a match against high-flying Everton to look forward to at the weekend.
On that note, here are the five major talking points from Manchester United’s 3-0 Carabao Cup fourth-round win over Brighton.
#1 Packed schedule forces both managers to ring in the changes
The games will be coming thick and fast in the 2020-21 season, thanks to the unique compressed schedule that sees most teams play on the weekends and in midweek in one competition or another.
With that in mind, both Graham Potter and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer named much-changed sides for this fixture, with only three of the 22 that lined up in the two teams' Premier League clash retaining their places in the two starting lineups.
Interestingly, all three of those players happened to be playing in defence, with Brighton’s Lewis Dunk and Ben White and Manchester United's Victor Lindelof starting for the second time in four days. As such, this game offered fringe players a real opportunity to make an impact and push for more game-time in the coming weeks.
#2 Juan Mata proves his worth for Manchester United
Although he has been in and out of Manchester United’s starting lineup over the past few seasons, there’s no denying that Juan Mata still has a lot of quality and experience to offer. His opportunities for United have been limited to Cup competitions of late, but the fact remains that there are few better players to watch than an on-song Mata.
After bossing the show in the previous round against Luton Town and scoring the penalty that put Manchester United into the lead, Mata showed his class yet again in this fixture. The Spaniard was United’s chief attacking outlet, often dropping deep to dictate play and distributing the ball around.
McTominay’s opening goal was almost entirely Mata’s creation as the latter outstripped Dan Burn with a rare burst of pace before being brought down by the lanky defender. The Spaniard then put it on a plate for the Scotsman to score.
Mata doubled Manchester United’s lead in the second half, putting a cultured finishing touch on a fine passing move from the visitors, in the process surely staking a claim for more game-time in the coming matches.