By Harry Ogilvie
- Depleted United defeat managerless Middlesbrough
- Win sees Manchester United become first team to reach 600 Premier League wins
- The three points move United up to fifth
After a hectic week of football for United which seen them play in three competitions. It was important they got three points against Middleborough in order to take advantage of Arsenal’s slip up yesterday.
This was an important game for both sides. A loss for Middlesbrough would see them drop even further into an already competitive relegation dogfight and anything but a United win would see their top four hopes damaged, potentially beyond repair.
When the teams were announced, it was thought United were starting with three at the back but 5 minutes or so into the game, it became evident it was a back four. Valencia was surprisingly deployed in a right midfield position with Bailly slotting in at right back.
Rashford started up front again with Lingard and Mata playing close behind.
United were without Pogba, Blind, Rooney through injury and the suspended pair of Zlatan Ibrahimović and Ander Herrera. Both Mkhitaryan and Rojo dropped to the bench with Mourinho saying they weren’t 100% fit. Both Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial were also named on the bench.
The match was an intriguing one with Mourinho’s men starting slow understandably after what has been an exhausting week but that didn’t stop Rashford from threatening 7 minutes in.
Middlesbrough dominated possession for opening 20 minutes but from then on United took control and apart from one defensive mistake, it was exactly what Mourinho’s team needed.
Lingard Stars As United Score Three
The first goal came in the 30th minute when Lingard drove forward and laid the ball off to Young, who whipped in an exceptional cross that left Fellaini with the simple task of nodding the ball home at the far post.
In a very open game, Lingard looked unbelievable when he ran at Middlesbrough’s backline. He played in a free role for the majority of the second half, allowing him to take players on and roam all over the pitch.
Lingard again proved the difference when he picked the ball up from Bailly on halfway before driving to the edge of the box and unleashing a sublime strike into the top corner.
Throughout the game, Lingard was making intelligent runs and taking on Middlesbrough’s backline at every opportunity, deservedly earning him the Man of the Match award.
Middlesbrough Revert To Long Ball
Middlesbrough began to put the pressure on United whipping numerous crosses in after bringing on Rudy Gestede and Adama Traore.
Eventually, Gestede scored after United failed to clear the ball despite being given several opportunities to do so.
Much of the blame has been put on Smalling for attempting to clear the ball with his right foot rather than his left, which led to him slipping and leaving the Middlesbrough striker to put the ball into De Gea’s net.
United’s final goal came in the dying minutes from Antonio Valencia, who chased the ball down causing Valdes to slip, leaving him to run the ball into the goal.
The Ecuadorian was once again extraordinary with his inhumane strength and athletic running ability from the first minute of the game to the last.
Despite his impressive performance, it was inevitably Lingard who got Man of the Match and probably deservedly so.
The 24 year old Englishman scored a splendid goal and threatened the Middlesbrough back four with his quick witted individual runs and confident dribbles.
The youth academy product was the driving force for United in the final third of the game when the likes of Rashford and Mata were beginning to tire.
United played some attractive football and managed to get Rashford one on one with Bernardo (Middlesbrough centre-back) several times, as well as constantly finding space for Valencia and Young to cross in numerous dangerous balls, one of which led to Fellaini’s goal.
Carrick Brings Calmness To United’s Midfield
With Carrick back in the side, United looked far more composed in the middle of the park and kept possession more effectively compared to recent games.
Fellaini, Carrick’s partner in the centre of the pitch, also made several plausible contributions to the game including several headed clearances from threatening crosses and corners and of course his headed finish for the opening goal.
In spite of United having several notable players missing from the starting eleven, they produced a decent performance scoring three goals away from home and earning a much needed three points to put pressure on those above them in the league table.
The Manager’s View
Despite facing some recent criticism for his finishing Mourinho defended Rashford amicably when saying the youthful prospect “with his movement and pace, Rashford played phenomenal.
Goals will arrive, no problem.” This shows although many have mixed views about Mourinho’s relationship with promoting young players, he is very confident in Rashford’s ability and fully believes he can fulfil his potential under his watchful eye at Old Trafford.
Jose continued to voice his confidence in his players and belief in their ability by stating the fact “we still have two doors open to play Champions League football next season” as well as saying the “boys were fantastic” and saying he “knew these boys would do the job”.
Reflecting on the week, he said “it’s a fantastic week because we got to the Quarter Finals and got three points to keep us in the race for top four.”
The former Porto boss seems more than satisfied with the progress United have been making in the last week.
We may have been knocked out of the FA Cup but Jose knows United are more than capable of competing on two fronts.
It is thought the Reds are favourites to win the Europa League and Mourinho will agree, there is no side in the competition that should beat this strong United side.
The game sees United move up to 5th. Four points behind fourth placed Liverpool after their 1-1 draw with Manchester City. United have the advantage of two games in hand on their North-West rivals.
An impressive away victory with goals from some of the most unlikely sources like Lingard who hasn’t scored since the League Cup final and Valencia who hasn’t scored since January 2014 against Swansea.
This result allows Mourinho to keep his side firmly in the top four race and keeps as he said two “doors” to the champions league open.