In a fiercely contested night of football, Manchester United beat Chelsea 1-2 at Stamford Bridge.
The Red Devils made it three consecutive away wins thanks to some excellent defensive displays and a couple of set-piece goals from Marcus Rashford. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Marcus Rashford
It can’t be easy being Marcus Rashford. People compare your goalscoring output with established players in their mid-to-late 20’s even though you’re only 21 (soon to turn 22). And then when they do compare you to someone your own age it’s the once-in-a-lifetime talent Kylian Mbappé. So much of the discourse around Rashford has become critical, but it doesn’t have to be.
Rashford is an exceptional talent, a genuine phenomenon, as proven by his consistent production against big six opponents. Even this season, when United have struggled, Rashford has been a constant presence in the big games. Tonight against Chelsea he led the line in a thankless role given United were playing in transition so he barely saw the ball.
Marcus Rashford's career record against the Premier league 'Big Six':
⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️ vs. Chelsea
⚽️⚽️⚽️ vs. Liverpool
⚽️⚽️ vs. Arsenal
⚽️⚽️ vs. Man City
⚽️ vs. Spurs
He loves a big game. pic.twitter.com/aVLsdn6w8Y
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 30, 2019
Still he looked dangerous when he had it, and had the nerve to step up and take the penalty despite missing his last one just a few days ago. Rashford stuck with his run-up technique and stuck the ball in the bottom corner as a result. Later in the game, with United needing something special to get their lead back, Rashford stepped up and smashed an impossible free-kick into the top corner.
This was a miracle of a thing, a dipping, swerving cannonball that befuddled poor Willy Caballero and nestled so sweetly in the back of the net that Rashford will now have the caché to take (and miss) dozens upon dozens of free-kicks – all in a vain attempt to repeat the magic of tonight’s goal. Still, as he enters his 22nd year he will have to be proud of his match-winning display.
Loser: Harry Maguire
When Manchester United paid £85m for Harry Maguire this summer there were a lot of jokes made about how he wasn’t worth that, that there were flaws in his game, but he had so many attributes that Manchester United were crying out for at centre-back that the deal made sense. And Maguire has improved United by a colossal amount, but those flaws are there.
For all his excellence in the air, and organisational skill, and bravery in the tackle, and defensive timing… he is very much all at sea in the open field. Michy Batshuayi showed today, or Oriel Hernandez did at the weekend – if you run at Maguire he can be slow to turn and adjust his body to get at you.
Today his failure against Batshuayi was two-fold, because before humiliating himself with his inability to chase the Belgian back, he first lost an aerial duel to him. Now, Maguire being killed in the open field is one thing, Maguire losing an aerial duel to a short striker is abysmal.
Winner: Michy Batshuayi
Michy Batshuayi has had a weird career, especially at Chelsea. He seemed like he wasn’t wanted but stuck around because of the transfer ban (and no one was sufficiently into him to really test the Blues), but that has worked out nicely for the Blues as he’s popped up to score impressively – first against Ajax in the Champions League and now against United.
Batshuayi did incredibly, really. He won an aerial duel against Harry Maguire, flicking the ball on before spinning around the giant Englishman and chasing down his own flick. He then shifted the ball and shot before Marcos Rojo could (presumably) two-foot him into the sun and rocketed the ball low into the side of the net where Sergio Romero couldn’t get.
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Winner: Brandon Williams
Manchester United have been searching for a left-back ever since Patrice Evra lost his way. Luke Shaw looked to be the choice but injury and a lack of professionalism have prevented him from progressing. Ashley Young has been a decent stopgap but given his age and the fact that ultimately, he’s not a full-back, mean that United needed someone to step up.
That someone is Brandon Williams. He’s not the second coming of Maldini or anything, but he is a rugged no-nonsense defender. He has explosive pace and superb instincts in both defence and attack. Tonight he was put up against Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James, and Chelsea threw most of their attacks down that flank yet Williams was never overwhelmed, showing incredible mental strength and defensive prowess. This boy could save Man Utd a whole load of money.
Loser: Callum Hudson-Odoi
It’s hard to be critical of players returning from injury, but Frank Lampard bet a lot on Callum Hudson-Odoi tonight. He and Christian Pulisic were given the start and honestly either man could be here but Hudson-Odoi saw more of the ball and thus wasted even more of it.
Hudson-Odoi was consistently bested by Brandon Williams, and only looked even remotely useful when shifted to left-wing but even there he offered little. There can be no doubt that Callum Hudson-Odoi is a magnificent talent, and we must be patient with him as he gets back to full fitness, but right now he looks a way off being his most dangerous self.
Everyone likes Scott McTominay, they’re very patient with him. Despite his flaws, they appreciate the Scot’s work-rate and drive. The same courtesy is not extended to Fred, probably because he cost £50m. Now that’s fair enough, but the truth is that both have been adapting to the responsibilities of playing for Manchester United (McTominay because of youth, Fred because of moving to a new country).
And today we saw one of the finest displays the Brazilian has yet to put in, and perhaps a sign that things are finally starting to click. McTominay excelled alongside him, adding physicality and cover, but the Brazilian put in a really impressive performance against the slick midfield duo of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic.
Fred passed, he pressed, he tackled and intercepted. He never looked overawed by the situation or stadium and when United first switched to 4-2-3-1 he pushed the tempo superbly and won what was ultimately the game-winning free-kick. Could this be the beginning of something great for Fred at Old Trafford?
Ole Gunnar Solskjær 6-1 Frank Lampard pic.twitter.com/rccjlYT6kE
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 30, 2019
Loser: The other quarter-finalists
Manchester City, Leicester, Oxford, Liverpool, and all the other quarter-finalists… they will now be a little bit less secure in their pursuit of the trophy. Obviously Manchester United aren’t the powerhouses they used to be, but they’re a young side with a lot of pace and a great comfort playing on the break. Their defenders can handle a lot of pressure and their attack is improving each game they play.
Where the other big sides rested players and put out youngsters, Manchester United put out a very strong side. They are taking this tournament very, very seriously. The Red Devils are hungry to win things and the EFL Cup could prove to be just the opportunity they wanted. Their team selection and mental fortitude tonight showed that they will be no pushovers in this competition.