United put Hammer down

Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring the opener in the League Cup quarter-final against West Ham. He had a brace, while team-mate Anthony Martial also netted twice.
Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring the opener in the League Cup quarter-final against West Ham. He had a brace, while team-mate Anthony Martial also netted twice.PHOTO: REUTERS

Mourinho happy with dominant display, says Mkhitaryan proving himself in England

LONDON • Jose Mourinho lauded his Manchester United players for playing "beautiful football" after they overwhelmed West Ham United 4-1 to set up a League Cup semi-final date with Hull City.

It was the kind of buccaneering display missing from their recent run of matches - fast, ruthless, attacking football - that surely had the manager beaming.

"I'm pleased with the goals because the performance is something that we are used to," Mourinho told Sky Sports, before ducking his post-game press conference.

"We are playing very, very well at home and today was more of the same.

"After that goal (West Ham's equaliser), we had 10 minutes where we felt it deeply but in the second half the team got again the confidence to win comfortably and play beautiful attacking football, which is something that the fans like."

Mourinho was not present in the dug-out, having earlier been given a one-game touchline ban for angrily booting a water bottle during United's 1-1 draw with West Ham in the Premier League last Sunday.

  • Man United 4 West Ham 1: Talking points

  • MKHITARYAN BACK ASSISTING

    It was always going to be hard for Henrikh Mkhitaryan to repeat the heroics of last season, when he recorded an unmatched 26 assists for Borussia Dortmund. However, the Armenian finally got off the mark with two assists for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Anthony Martial.

    He also kept up the pace with United's counter-attack, which will please his manager Jose Mourinho.

    ROONEY SHOWS OLD FORM

    Wayne Rooney looks to have put a tumultuous few weeks behind him. Particularly in the first half, he looked like the Rooney of old. Playing as a No. 10, he linked play between Ander Herrera and Ibrahimovic well. Crucially, he did not look off the pace.

    Old habits die hard, though. The United captain should have kept quiet rather than remonstrating with referee Mike Jones because that led to his fifth booking of the season, ruling him out of Sunday's trip to Everton in the Premier League.

    UP FOR THE CUP

    Other teams may not value the League Cup, but that is certainly not the case with Mourinho.

    The Portuguese made five changes to his starting XI, but there was still no doubt that he was taking the game seriously.

    The front three players (Martial, Rooney, Mkhitaryan) lining up behind Ibrahimovic cost around £90 million (S$161.4 million).

    One suspects that had Paul Pogba not been suspended, he would have played, further increasing the value of United's starting line-up with his £89 million price tag.

He could not be seen in the directors' box either and when asked where he had watched the game, he said it was a secret.

The Portuguese had seen his side concede inside two minutes on Sunday, but it was United who struck first as Henrikh Mkhitaryan's deft backheel released Zlatan Ibrahimovic to beat West Ham goalkeeper Adrian.

Ashley Fletcher, who left United for West Ham in July, equalised in the 35th minute after David de Gea allowed Dimitri Payet's shot to bounce away from him.

But Anthony Martial scored twice, confidently tucking away right-wing passes from Mkhitaryan and then Antonio Valencia, before Ander Herrera teed up Ibrahimovic for United's fourth goal in stoppage time.

Herrera was freed by Bastian Schweinsteiger, who received a warm ovation from the Old Trafford faithful as he came on to make his first appearance this season.

Mourinho has softened his stance regarding the former Germany captain, who he had previously frozen out, and also saw Mkhitaryan produce another assured display on just his third United start.

Mkhitaryan shone in United's recent 4-0 win over Feyenoord in the Europa League, but Mourinho was more pleased to see the former Borussia Dortmund star impress against domestic opposition.

"I'm so happy because today was against a Premier League team with Premier League qualities, with Premier League characteristics," said the United manager.

"That showed clearly his evolution because against Feyenoord we could think, 'OK, it is a different profile of football'.

"But today was against a proper and typical Premier League team and Micky (Mkhitaryan) could perform this way."

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic professed himself "very disappointed" and said his team had paid the price for conceding early goals in both halves.

"You can't have a slow start anywhere, especially not here," said the Croatian. "Because they're good anyway, but especially when they're 1-0 up and can play on the counter-attack.

"At half-time we said we can't allow them to do it again, but it was exactly the same at the start of the second half."

United will take on Hull over two legs in the semi-finals next month. The winner will play Liverpool or Southampton in the final.

"Let's try to go back to Wembley. I want this beautiful team to win more matches. It's Man United tradition," Mourinho added.

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2016, with the headline 'United put Hammer down'. Print Edition | Subscribe