Marcus Rashford scored a spectacular winning goal to send Manchester United through to the Carabao Cup quarterfinals, as the Reds beat Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge. Rashford opened the scoring himself with a first half penalty, before Michy Batshuayi equalized in the second half.
While the relative youth of United’s senior squad means that the team put out by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was by no means old, it was hardly a side of academy prospects. Of the starting XI, only the impressive Brandon Williams was yet to earn a senior international call up. Solskjaer may fancy himself a romantic, but with the League Cup providing the path of least resistance to a trophy, this was a pragmatic team selection.
The first 25 minutes of the match were notable for mostly being, well...not very notable. There was nothing much in the way of a cup tie atmosphere between modern rivals, and aside from an early yellow card for Scott McTominay for a rash challenge, there was little bite from either side. There was little fluency in attack for either team either, and the opening goal seemed to come out of nowhere.
Marcos Alonso made a clumsy half-hearted tackle on Daniel James as the Welshman ran into the Chelsea box, and as he tends to do, James went down under the contact. It was a correct penalty decision — if a little soft — and unlike on Sunday, Rashford stepped up and put the ball in the net.
United grew in confidence after the goal, and put together a number of attacking moves before half-time, although none bore fruit. The Reds were helped by Chelsea’s own disjointed play, and for the most part United’s three center-backs made it to the break largely untroubled.
Five minutes after the restart, Chelsea — still without a shot on target at that point — had their best chance to draw level, but Callum Hudson-Odoi dragged his shot wide with only Sergio Romero to beat. Two minutes later, Hudson-Odoi was denied a free shot at goal by a brilliantly timed last-ditch tackle from Williams. Frank Lampard had apparently managed to fire up his charges at half-time, because the pace of the game had now markedly increased.
Solskjaer and United failed to respond to the home side’s newfound urgency, and when Chelsea equalized right at the hour mark, it felt inevitable. Michy Batshuayi controlled Willy Caballero’s long ball just over the halfway line — beating Harry Maguire too easily — before running past and holding off Maguire to finish in the far corner.
United’s manager responded to the change in momentum with a change in both personnel and team shape. Anthony Martial joined the proceedings, coming on in place of Victor Lindelöf. United were now playing a 4-3-3, and Andreas Pereira also came on in place of Jesse Lingard to play the no. 10 role.
The changes sparked United into life, and the Reds put together their first attacks of the half. During one of those, Fred was brought down in a central position over 30 yards from goal. When Rashford lined up the set piece to take it directly, it looked ill-advised.
And then something magical happened.
Rashford hit a vicious shot from the dead ball that curved over the wall and dipped just inches under the crossbar and rippled the back of the net. It was a spectacular goal, and a worthy winner for any match.
From there, United held on to secure the result without making the mistake of dropping too deep, despite Ashley Young coming on for Rashford for the final ten minutes. After a rocky run of results, United have now won three consecutive away games in three different competitions. Things may be looking up.