Manchester United’s defense of the Carabao Cup opened in fine fashion on Wednesday with a 4-1 victory over Burton Albion. A Marcus Rashford brace and goals from Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial made it an evening to remember for José Mourinho’s men.
Unlike some of his contemporaries, the United manager has always valued this competition highly — and he seems to have instilled a similar mindset in his players. The team came flying out of the gates and left no chance for an upset with a dominating first-half performance.
Marcus Rashford struck first with a 5th minute chip over the onrushing Connor Ripley. The highlight was Jesse Lingard’s audacious redirect of a Carrick pass that set Rashford through on goal. The forward made no mistake and calmly lofted the ball into the net.
The opening goal did not discourage the Championship outfit, which enjoyed a strong spell of possession in the early going. Albion’s resistance, though, broke on 17 minutes when Rashford grabbed his second. Daley Blind laid the ball off for Rashford outside the box, who took a quick touch before firing his shot past Ripley at the near post.
The United assault on Albion’s goal continued throughout the half, with both Juan Mata and Anthony Martial unlucky not to score. The Frenchman turned provider in the 36th minute after his mazy run set Jesse Lingard up at the top of the box. His shot took a massive deflection on its way in, leaving the Albion goalkeeper a helpless bystander. Having used up every bit of his luck, Lingard had a penalty claim waved away just a few minutes later.
By the time the whistle for halftime blew, Burton Albion must have felt lucky to only be down three. Manchester United impressively put nine of its eleven first-half shots on goal. The damage could have been much worse.
With the match well in hand by intermission, Mourinho could use his allotted substitutions strategically — giving minutes to both young and recovering players, while also experimenting with a new formation. Luke Shaw made his long-awaited return from an ankle ligament injury when he replaced Mata at the break. This move also tweaked the formation to a 3-5-2, a setup that Mourinho hinted might be used more in 2017/18.
Shaw had the ball in the back of the net in the 49th minute, but the whistle had already gone for offside. Although he was unable to celebrate his season debut with a goal, Shaw nonetheless looked fit and ready to challenge for a regular place in the side.
Another player staking a claim for a bigger role was Martial. Just minutes after forcing yet another save out of Ripley, he finally put one past the keeper and notched his fourth goal of the season. Martial terrorized the Albion defense all night and narrowly missed two other chances to run up the score.
As United remained comfortable and in control, Mourinho used his two remaining changes to play the youngsters. 20-year-old Scott McTominay came on in the 64th minute and 21-year-old Joel Pereira replaced Romero in goal a quarter hour later.
Although Manchester United continued to dominate throughout the second half, Burton Albion managed to claim a consolation goal in stoppage time. Pereira mishandled a ball rebounding off the crossbar, bundling it out to an uncovered Lloyd Dyer. Dyer emphatically blasted in the goal, robbing United of a clean sheet and marking the first goal allowed this season at Old Trafford.
All in all, Manchester United looked excellent in its Carabao Cup opener. Sure, Burton Albion hardly presented the stiffest challenge but several squad members got a good run-out and confidence will be sky-high in the dressing room. United has already been drawn against Swansea City in the 4th Round, so all signs point towards another cup run for the men in red.