Manchester United set up a Lancashire derby in the fifth round of the FA Cup after comfortably despatching Cambridge United 3-0. Goals from Juan Mata and Marcos Rojo in the first half settled United’s nerves and James Wilson capped off a comfortable night at Old Trafford by adding a third just a few minutes after coming on in the second half. The U’s almost took the lead in the opening minute, with their best chance of the game, but Tom Elliott’s effort cannoned off the post on a day when Cambridge gave a performance they can be proud of, even though they lost 3-0.
Here are the major talking points from the game.
United’s direct approach pays dividends
One of the criticisms that United have had to endure this season has been their lack of bite going forward. Their attacking play has often been too pedestrian and laid back, giving the opposition too much time to set themselves. Although Van Gaal’s team selection on Tuesday wasn’t a surprise, the way they played and how they eventually lined up was impressive. While many though that United were going to play a diamond with Fellaini and Di Maria behind Mata and Rooney and Van Persie up front, Rooney started on the right, with the Belgian playing further forward alongside the Dutchman.
What this meant was that there was a lot more crosses going into the box, so as to make the best use of Fellaini’s aerial prowess. In many ways, United’s play was reminiscent of their glory days in the last two decades when wingers were whipping balls in for the strikers to score from. The Belgian’s presence certainly caused the visitors all sorts of problems and it was he who laid the platform for the first two goals. Playing Fellaini further forward not only got the best out of the 27-year-old, but also made the side a lot more direct and threatening going forward, which laid the groundwork for a comfortable home win.
Is this the end for Van Persie?
When Louis Van Gaal let Danny Welbeck go at the start of the season, he said that it was because the Englishman isn’t cut from the same cloth as the club’s two main strikers, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. As the season has wore on, it seems as though the Dutchman is no longer the striker his manager thinks he is.
Against Cambridge, the 31-year-old striker put in a performance that might finally have convinced Van Gaal that the Dutchman is no longer the best striker at the club. Although he made plenty of good runs, got into the right places and had shots at goal, Van Persie’s decisiveness and his clinical touch inside the box deserted him. James Wilson, who replaced the Dutchman showed him how it’s done as he notched up his second goal of the season. The Englishman’s pace, willingness to run and eye for goal might finally mean that Van Persie is no longer the first-choice striker at the club.
Will this be United’s year in the FA Cup?
Prior to the this season, United’s last nine opponents in the FA Cup were all Premier League clubs. And it wasn’t sides that were struggling in the League, United have had to face the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool in the last few years in the opening few rounds of the FA Cup. Their rotten luck surely had to change at some point and so it has proved this year.
If they win away at Preston in the fifth round, United will have made their way to the quarter-final of a cup competition they haven’t won in a decade having played no club belonging to the top two tiers of English football. Although they currently have no player at the club who has won a FA Cup with the club, given the attacking quality that the side possess and the departure of several big names already this season, it looks as though this might finally be the year that the Red Devils break their FA Cup drought.