Manchester United struggled through a 1-1 match against Rochdale in the opening round of the League Cup, and only won via 5-3 penalty shootout victory. From the opening minutes United looked the better team, and dominated possession throughout. Rochdale were up for the fight however, and they set the tone early.
Rochdale made a clear effort to pressure Paul Pogba, who made his return from injury. He was smothered a couple times upon receiving the ball, but still managed to get involved. In addition, they were good at keeping bodies in and around the box, blocking several attempts and swarming players on potential chances.
A great opportunity on target was found on the break in the 25th minute, but it was headed right at the Rochdale keeper by Marcos Rojo. It wasn’t a clinically taken chance, but it did serve as a warning to what United are capable of on the counter attack. It was followed soon after by an excellent Pogba pass into the area, but Andreas Pereira couldn’t reach it. Mason Greenwood looked to shoot soon after that, but Rochdale had plenty of bodies in the way.
Greenwood then played a cross to a free Pogba, who somehow couldn’t direct it on frame with his head. It was United’s best opportunity of the half up to that point. It was a trend that would continue. The 17 year old centre forward then created the next best opportunity of the game, pouncing on a through pass after the high press won the ball from the Rochdale back line. He couldn’t convert, however, hitting a shot almost right at the keeper. Lingard sent another header just over the crossbar shortly before half-time, and Rochdale went into the break having withstood a flurry of chances from the United attack. Rochdale goalkeeper Robert Sanchez had an excellent performance, and was a vital last line of defense throughout the match for his side.
The second half began as the first ended, with United pressing for a goal. Youngster Brandon Williams made his United debut, coming on for Phil Jones, and immediately got involved in the search for the opening goal. Daniel James too came on as the half wore on without a goal, much to the joy of the fans who had been singing his name on and off the whole night.
The opening goal finally came in the 68th minute through Mason Greenwood. He made a good cut and blasted home the shot in front of the Stretford End for the 2nd goal of his career. The celebrations and relief did not last long, however. Rochdale got forward soon after the restart, and within minutes equalized from a fantastic shot by 16 year old right back Luke Matheson.
United spent the rest of the game dominating possession and creating several good chances, but they werent able to grab the late win. Rochdale’s goalscorer Matheson got away with a potential penalty in stoppage time, pulling Pogba down right in front of the goal.
Manchester United converted all 5 of their penalties, and Sergio Romero’s save of Rochdale’s second spot kick was enough to see them through to the next round.
It was nowhere near a classic performance, and perhaps fans will be a bit embarrassed that it took a penalty shootout to get past a 3rd tier side, but no one can question that this United side wanted a win. They’re through to the next round, which is more than last year’s squad could say (a side that did suffer the embarrassment of a penalty shootout loss at home in the first match), and will play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the fourth round on October 28th.