Following Manchester United’s less-than-impressive start to the season José Mourinho’s side is now on a bit of a roll. Eight wins in succession in all competitions, including a 4-0 drubbing of Championship outfit Reading in the FA Cup, means confidence is at the highest point it’s been since last summer. It’s a run the Reds can continue when Hull City arrives at Old Trafford for a League Cup semi-final this Tuesday.
Not that Mourinho’s side was performing poorly prior to this run. Far from it, with the manager’s frustration increasing with his team’s inability to take chances and finish games despite dominant performances. Yet, there has also been a change since United suffered an added-time heartbreaker at Goodison Park. Chances created are now being finished, and the team is closing out games. The Reds are looking more comfortable under Mourinho’s stewardship – the proof is in the results.
[blockquote who=”” cite=””]José Mourinho’s side is on a roll. Eight wins in succession means that confidence is at the highest point it’s been since last summer.[/blockquote]
For the first time in a long time, the team is not only winning, but doing it the ‘United Way’. United’s convincing wins over Sunderland, West Ham United, and Reading, compliment last-gasp ‘Fergie Time’ victories against Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough.
The transformation, in no small part, is this down to the players Mourinho brought in over the summer, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba earning an additional four points with winning goals versus Palace and Boro alone. The feeling around Old Trafford is that the project is starting to come together.
From United’s perspective Mourinho will be disappointed that many of the club’s rivals have kept winning too. Despite United’s five consecutive victories in the Premier League, the team remains sixth, albeit now just three points behind fourth-placed Manchester City. Momentum is key, however, and United has it in spades should opponents slip in the coming months.
This is the basis for a top four challenge, of course. Success is measured in silverware though and League Cup represents United’s first chance of adding to an already brimming trophy cabinet.
It’s also a tournament in which Mourinho has a storied history. The Portuguese manager has won this competition more than any other in his career, with three final victories already to his name. Chelsea’s win in 2004/05 League Cup secured the first English trophy of a particularly silverware-rich period in Mourinho’s career.
Of course, some of the tournament’s lustre has worn thin, often because of the weaker line-ups chosen by some of the country’s top sides in the early rounds. Not Mourinho, however, who not only recognises how important it is to find a winning start to his time at United, but has fielded a strong side in every round of the competition thus far.
United’s run to the semi-final has been pretty straightforward, with a 3-1 victory over Northampton Town in the Third Round, followed by by a 1-0 win over City at Old Trafford. Pep Guardiola selected a weaker team; Mourinho did not and the rewards could be United’s.
Hull City is in the midst of yet another crisis. Mike Phelan, Sir Alex Ferguson’s old assistant, was offered a permanent contract with Hull after winning the Premier League Manager of the Month award August. He has since been sacked after a disastrous series of results.
“Results have been on the decline since that time and although there have been some positive performances in recent weeks, we sit bottom of the Premier League and I felt now was the right time to take a fresh approach and give this club and squad of players the best possible chance of retaining Premier League status,” said Vice-Chairman Ehab Allam.
The Tigers have since brought in Marco Silva, former manager of Olympiacos and Sporting CP. The Portuguese coach has the unenviable task of keeping Hull from relegation, with the club in 19th place in the table.
The League Cup represents a respite from the stresses of a relegation battle and, possibly, even a chance at the club’s first major honour in its history. Silva enjoyed a 2-0 victory over Swansea City in the FA Cup as his first game in charge – and for Hull that almost represents momentum heading into Tuesday’s tie.
Silva could select former United academy graduate James Weir, who made the move to Hull on deadline day last September. Weir made his United début against Arsenal under Louis van Gaal, but has also found opportunities limited on Humberside, with the League Cup his only route into the first team.
Elsewhere, while Hull has struggled to score goals, there is no lack of effort. Robert Snodgrass perhaps best represents that, with seven goals this season and interest from other Premier League clubs.
Mourinho is likely to field a strong side against Hull on Tuesday after he made nine changes for United’s victory over Reading in the FA Cup at the weekend. The United coach must also factor in the Reds’ upcoming match with Liverpool.
“I play with the players that didn’t play today,” said Mourinho on Saturday. “I played with fresh players and I don’t want to say anything about first choice or second choice but we played with fresh players, the players who didn’t play against West Ham.
“In the next match against Hull City we are going to play again with fresh players. So it’s easy to know our team – Zlatan, Pogba, Herrera, Valencia. The guys that didn’t play today.”
United subs from: Romero, Jones, Fosu-Mensah, Darmian, Blind, Martial, Rashford, Young, Lingard, Rooney
Hull subs from: Marshall, Hernández, Maloney, Weir, Tymon, Bowen, Clackstone, Mason, Henriksen, Mbokani
“Hull face a semi-final, also a big occasion for them, and I don’t know maybe for them, it’s more important the match they have to play three or four days later [against Bournemouth] in the Premier League.
“We play against Liverpool, a big match for us, but we want to be in the final. So we are going to face this Hull match with everything we have, all the power we have, as we know it’s two legs but the second leg is away. If we can do something in the first leg that gives us the advantage.”
Marcos Rojo left the field with an injury on Saturday, meaning that Phil Jones and Chris Smalling will have the opportunity to renew their partnership. Luke Shaw is now fit again and is more likely to be offered minutes against Hull than in a more heated affair at the weekend.
Hull captain Michael Dawson is expected to miss out after also suffering injury in the Tigers’ FA Cup victory over Swansea City at the weekend, exacerbating the visitors problems, with Curtis Davies already ruled. Uruguayan striker Abel Hernandez come back into the team after scoring on his return at the weekend.