Manchester United’s season just got even worse Wednesday night after they were defeated on penalty kicks by Sunderland, missing out on an opportunity for a Capital One Cup Final game against cross-town rivals Manchester City.
Some Manchester United fans will undoubtedly use the club’s heartbreaking elimination from the League Cup as more reason to bash Manager David Moyes. However, the evidence from the match indicate that Moyes and the Red Devils have made significant progress despite not having their three best players available (Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic).
Moyes set up United aggressively and they were able to create multiple first-half chances that on a day with better finishers in the side, likely would have been buried. The lack of cutting edge and killer instinct would haunt United’s largely reserve setup as Sunderland came back into the game in the second half.
Critics will point to the sheer number of half-chances created by Sunderland in the second half. But the combination of midfield errors by the Red Devils as well as the inability of United’s attacking players to finish chances by playing the correct final ball on counter attacks kept Sunderland in the match. This was largely down to selfish immaturity of Adnan Januzaj who could have killed the match off on multiple occasions.
As the game progressed to extra time, you could see the spirit in the United team was still high while Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans showed a defending prowess that had eluded them at the weekend against Chelsea. Cramps to the mistake-prone Alexander Büttner probably worked in favor of Moyes’ men. Patrice Evra came on and helped steady the left-side of United’s defense, which was being shredded in the second half of the match.
David De Gea’s mistake that put Sunderland temporarily ahead in the tie was unfortunate. The keeper has been one of the few consistent performers for the Red Devils this season and it came after almost a full hour of Sunderland chances and half chances went array.
Unlike past matches were De Gea could blame his defense for leaky play, the United back line fought heroically today. They showed a fight and character that has been lacking thus far this season. All of this was done without captain Nemanja Vidić being available following his cynical and cowardly red card against Chelsea.
While David Moyes will be disappointed by the result after penalties, this match gave Manchester United plenty to be hopeful about for the future. Smalling and Evans were particularly good, while the loss of Vidic was inconsequential.