Manchester United advanced to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup with a clinical 2-0 victory over Huddersfield Town, thanks to Romelu Lukaku’s 20th and 21st goals of the season. The Belgian got a goal early in each half, with both coming on the counter-attack.
José Mourinho made six changes to his starting XI, and although Paul Pogba’s absence was enforced due to illness, some of the others may be a hint at which players are likely to be involved in midweek Champions League action.
The Reds were out in front within just a couple of minutes. A precise through ball from Juan Mata put Lukaku through, and the striker had the pace to get ahead of his defender and then the nous to cut the ball back and finish calmly. Despite the early setback, the Terriers were unbowed; most of the action in the following several minutes took place in United’s box, including a first use of VAR to review a potential Chris Smalling handball.
The rest of the first half played out with Huddersfield largely on top. So it was somewhat against the run of play when United had the ball in the back of the net just seconds before halftime. Ashley Young skipped past two defenders on the right wing before playing a lovely weighted cross into Mata. Mata had appeared to cleverly hold his run before rounding the keeper and burying the chance. The Video Assistant Referees then controversially took center stage, ruling out the goal for offside after a lengthy review. On the broadcast replay, it appeared to be a very harsh decision, as Mata looked level at worst.
There was still time for the ball to end up in the back of the Huddersfield net one more time before halftime. Nemanja Matić got on the end of a free-kick and put the ball away, but his effort was also ruled out for offside - this time less controversially. United went into the break both fortunate to be ahead on the balance of play, and also rightfully aggrieved to not have an even greater lead.
Huddersfield started the second half in the ascendancy. United were having particular trouble dealing with full-back Florent Hadergjonaj, and had already conceded a pair of corners and a dangerous-looking free-kick in the first ten minutes. Directly following one of those opportunities for the hosts however, the Reds struck again.
Alexis Sánchez started a counter attack, playing a brilliant ball into the path of Lukaku. Lukaku yet again outpaced the defenders before putting another composed finish past the ‘keeper. Huddersfield had most of the ball, but were being completely undone by United’s ruthless counter-attacking play.
After the second goal went in, the result was never in doubt, and the rest of the half played out with United in control. Huddersfield managed to string together a few more half-chances, but the end product was never there. United closed out a professional team performance with an added bonus as well: the brief, but welcome return to action of Eric Bailly, who came off the bench in the game’s dying seconds.