A not-great game ended with an excellent result for Manchester United, as Jose Mourinho's embattled team overcame neighbours Manchester City to progress to the last eight of the League Cup. But while the performance was a little lacking in consistent quality, this certainly didn't look like a team coming from a broken dressing room, or one that's decided that their manager is a joke.
That said, United tried their best to throw another game away early: with just two minutes gone, Luke Shaw stood off Jesus Navas and Kelechi Iheanacho headed the resultant cross over from about two yards out. But then the game settled into a shape befitting two teams in dubious form and with vaguely experimental lineups. The first half hour was cagey and fragmented, with only a pair of bookings for Iheanacho and Antonio Valencia to trouble the scorers. United's best chance of the opening exchanges came when Zlatan Ibrahimovic lined up a 20-yard freekick, and vanished when he toe-bunged it into the wall.
After thirty minutes or so, however, United upped the energy. Nicolas Otamendi had to sprawl to block an Ibrahimovic shot after good work from Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw down the left, and then the big Swede returned the favour, setting Rashford free behind the City defence with a beautifully-weighted through ball. The youngster couldn't quite make up his mind whether to pass or shoot first time, and by the time he'd set his feet, City were back in numbers.
Up at the other end, City weren't quite able to profit from United's sloppy passing, and both Daley Blind and Ibrahimovic were left needing to thank their defensive colleagues after witlessly conceding the ball in midfield. A goalless first half was probably about all both sides deserved.
However, it was United — after giving away yet another early chance that nearly ruined everything, again — that began the second half in far better shape. Three minutes in, a lovely passing move began on the right with Ander Herrera and Ibrahimovic and ended with Pogba placing his shot just too close to Willy Caballero, who pawed the ball onto the post. Then moments later, Rashford slalomed down the left before feeding the ball inside to the Frenchman, whose off-balance shot went wide.
The goal came a few minutes later, and while Ibrahimovic wasn't having his best evening when it came to kicking the football, he still found a way to make an impression. Nicolas Otamendi bounced off him, feathering the ball through in the process. The Swede stabbed the ball across to Ander Herrera, who either fouled or was fouled by Fernandinho. As everybody looked to Mike Dean, Juan Mata strolled into the box unmarked and planted a firm finish into the net.
The game took a predictable shape from there on, as United dropped deeper and let City play in front of them. And though the visitors had plenty of ball, David de Gea didn't have a save to make for the rest of the game. Indeed, the best half-chances fell to United: Ibrahimovic just failed to find Rashford with a cute backheel on the edge of the box; and Rashford's deep cross was intercepted with Pogba lurking.
As the game wound down, there was just time for Old Trafford to indulge in some joyful singing and for Pogba and Ibrahimovic to collect a pair of, respectively, harsh and comical yellow cards. While neither had a game that quite matched their reputations, they, along with the rest of the team, ran themselves into the ground, and came away with a deserved win.