Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made 10 changes to the Manchester United side that lost in limp fashion to Crystal Palace over the weekend, and although the rotated Reds team that faced Luton Town in the third round of the Carabao Cup on Tuesday did not look much more coherent, they were able to come away with a 3-0 win — even if the final scoreline was very flattering. A first half penalty from Juan Mata and late strikes from substitutes Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood secured the result for the visitors
There was more to note about in the starting line-up for United than there was about the actual action on the pitch in the first half. There were full debuts for returning goalkeeper Dean Henderson and new signing Donny van de Beek in United’s XI, as well as delayed first appearances of the season for first-choice players Nemanja Matić and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
While van de Beek looked sharp and lively in his first start for the club — several clever moves and flicks threatened to create openings in the first 45 minutes — the rest of the team looked mostly as sluggish as the one that played over the weekend. The lack of preseason has already been evident in the players’ performances, and if the Reds were more talented than their second division opponents, the gap was bridged by the difference in sharpness. Other than a snap shot from Mata that brought a very good save out of the Luton ‘keeper, and one driving run in particular from Jesse Lingard, there was not much to write home about in the first half — until the 44th minute.
Brandon Williams drove into the box and got his body in between the defender and ball, getting himself clumsily brought down by his defender. Juan Mata stepped up and dispatched the penalty coolly, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead to take into the break.
After the restart, it took about another quarter of an hour of pointlessness for United to pull their heads out. A diagonal cross from Mata was almost swept hom by Lingard, but the reported Spurs target was denied by a block from his former United academy teammate Ryan Tunnicliffe. Moments later, a low drive from Nemanja Matić was only kept out by a full stretch save from James Shea.
United were still mostly running around looking busy and not much else, but there was at least a hint of edge about them now. Around the 70th minute, Lingard shot just over the bar after some good build play, and a minute later van de Beek was denied his second goal in as many games by the feet of Shea.
With 12 minutes of regular time left to go, Solskjaer sent on his insurance policies. Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, and Bruno Fernandes replaced Juan Mata, Odion Ighalo, and Donny van de Beek. Before the subs could even have a touch of the ball between them, Luton were nearly level. Dean Henderson, after having nothing to do for the better part of 80 minutes, had to show lightning quick reflexes to deny an equalizer for the home side through Tom Lockyer’s header.
The substitutes did make an impact however — the difference in quality and movement was evident immediately. And all three players were involved in United’s second goal. Bruno exchanged passed with Greenwood, and when Fred played the ball forward, Greenwood showed impressive strength to hold up the ball and lay it off for the oncoming Rashford. Rashford’s first touch was perfectly weighted, and his precise finish inside of the post left the ‘keeper no choice.
With the result now decided, the intensity of the Luton players dropped just enough for United to inflate the scoreline some more. Greenwood found himself in space just wide of the goal, and United’s new no. 11 only ever needs a sliver of daylight to exploit — and exploit it he did. His low shot fizzed past Shea and into the far corner to make it 3-0.
United will now go on to face Brighton & Hove Albion in the next round.