Mata wins it for United

Manchester United’s Spanish midfielder Juan Mata celebrates a score during the English Premier League soccer match played between Swansea City AFC and Manchester United FC at the Liberty Stadium, Swansea, Wales, Great Britain, 30 August 2015. EPA/GEOFF CADDICK.

Juan Mata struck to win a tight Manchester derby as United knocked out EFL Cup holders City to reach the quarter-finals.

The Spaniard pounced to drive low into the corner from Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s pull-back as United set up a home tie with West Ham in the next round.

Paul Pogba had hit a post moments earlier as the game came alive in the second period, following a first half in which neither of the bitter rivals managed a shot on target.

City boss Pep Guardiola made nine changes to his side, who are now six games without a win in all competitions, his worst run as a manager.

Their best chance arrived early on when Kelechi Iheanacho headed over from six yards, while second-half substitutes Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero made little impact.

Victory was United’s second in five matches, and only Jose Mourinho’s fourth win in 18 meetings with Guardiola.

The Portuguese manager Mourinho said on Wednesday his life in Manchester is “a bit of a disaster”.

And knowing that United’s poor form created a sense that defeat at Old Trafford would prompt tough headlines, he admitted recent displays influenced his choice to make only four changes and retain key names.

United, far from at their best, scored during their only spell of quality in the opening 10 minutes of the second half as Ibrahimovic – anonymous in the opening period – profited from Nicolas Otamendi’s missed header to square for Mata.

There remain areas of concern for United. Luke Shaw was constantly outwitted by Jesus Navas and again there was no place in the 18-man squad for £26m summer signing Henrik Mkhitaryan.

But while Guardiola said the competition was his “lowest priority” before kick-off, Mourinho perhaps took the chance to shift United’s momentum.

The League Cup was the first trophy he won in England. The last two times United eliminated City in the competition they went on to win it in 1970 and 1976.

Guardiola would be more concerned with City’s finishing after they ended the night without working David de Gea once – the first time they have not had a shot on target in a game since 2012.

“I’m proud of the young players and how they played. At that level you need to be more clinical with the last pass but it’s difficult against United,” he said.

City, who are top of the Premier League, had an early penalty appeal turned down when Michael Carrick tangled with Aleix Garcia.

The wholesale changes made for the tie may blur detailed analysis of just what is amiss in recent weeks, but a switch to a 4-4-2 formation after two league games where a back three was used perhaps shows Guardiola has not yet settled on the way forward at City.

He could also face more time without captain Vincent Kompany, who, making only his second start of the season, asked to be replaced at half-time because he was ‘tired’.

Kompany suffered a groin strain in September but has been dogged by thigh and calf issues, prompting his playing time to fall from around over 2,700 minutes in 2013-14 to 1,700 last season.

There were some positives for Guardiola as 19-year-old full-back Pablo Maffeo made some key interventions but if City fail to win on Saturday they would be seven matches without a win, a dire run not endured since 2004.

Manchester City travel to the side who have made fewer passes than anyone in the Premier League this season – West Brom – on Saturday and host Barcelona three days later.

United face Burnley at Old Trafford on Saturday and visit Fenerbahce in the Europa League on Thursday.

 

 

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