What Manchester United's League Cup Victory Taught Us
Despite being only the fourth-highest priority on David Moyes’ list of silverware this season, Manchester United's chance to address the wounds of derby day distress by beating archrivals Liverpool in the League Cup was too alluring to take lightly.
Making eight changes to the side that was dismantled at the Etihad on the weekend, Moyes fielded a different-looking side that showed himself as much as us the overwhelming depth of the squad.
Here's what Manchester United's League Cup victory taught us.
The Disappearance of Shinji Kagawa
Throughout the summer, the general consensus among fans and critics was that an extra attacking midfield talent was needed at the club. Often overlooked at United since joining from Borussia Dortmund last summer for £12 million, Kagawa showed last night that Man U had a key playmaker all along.
As was the case against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League, his deft control, clever turns and eagle-eyed vision helped create a number of promising goalscoring opportunities.
Indeed, as his second-half strike, which he created with some creative movement, skimmed the crossbar, cries rang out from all over the pub where I was watching the game. Those cries asked, "Why doesn’t he play more often?"
Last time around against Liverpool and in their previous ties versus Chelsea and Manchester City, United lacked creativity, never making the most of possession—especially against the latter, as they rarely saw the ball in the first half.
Against Liverpool, Kagawa injected that much-needed artistic prowess into the team and deserves much more game time in the coming weeks.
Evans and Man United’s Youthful Defence
Perhaps not wanting to change things too fast, too drastically, David Moyes has relied heavily on the centre-back pairing of veterans Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand in these early stages of his Man United career.
Consequently, last night marked Jonny Evans’ first appearance of the new campaign—and he made his return in style.
Against City, Ferdinand looked slow, clumsy and aged. Against Liverpool, Evans was sharp, reliable and committed to everything, putting his body on the line to constantly win headers and make clearances.
The comparative youth of last night’s defence, completed by Rafael, Chris Smalling and a particularly inspired Alexander Buttner, offered a different alternative for Moyes. It proved that youth can trump experience at the back and questions the certainty of Ferdinand’s first-team future.
It has certainly made Moyes’ next team selection that little bit more difficult.
Javier Hernandez: The Little Pea Strikes Again
Often compared to club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Javier Hernandez struck the only goal of the game last night with a strike that bore many similarities to the poaching prestige that made Solskjær so adored at Old Trafford. His movement in the box was superb and his finish clinical.
His only other appearances this season have been from the bench when games were already decided, giving him no real chance to make an impact and impress his new boss.
But last night he seized his chance in impressive fashion and will give Danny Welbeck some stiff competition for a starting lineup place.
Up to now, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have been Moyes’ mainstay wingers. However, their lacklustre performances on derby day—with Young completing only 53 percent of his passes, per Squawka—when compared to Nani’s recent showings, leave you raising an eyebrow.
Not only has Young been chosen ahead of Nani in several key games so far this season, but Wilfried Zaha, Ferguson’s last-ever signing, has hardly had a look-in.
Although we cannot expect a young player used to Championship level to be an instant success, the only way for him to be properly embedded into the side and the competitions in which they compete is for him to play regularly. That, so far, has not happened.
In all, the defeat of Liverpool will help open Moyes’ eyes, as he is still getting to know his squad in terms of the depth of talent available to him.