MANCHESTER, England — “Our strength in depth is plain for everyone to see now,” wrote Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in his programme notes ahead of West Ham United‘s visit to Old Trafford in the third round of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday. The Manchester United manager may need a rethink after watching his much-changed team lose 1-0, and with it one of four chances to win a trophy this season.
You can argue this was a United team filled with players without any sort of rhythm after watching the opening weeks of the season from the bench, but they should still have beaten West Ham, who made 10 changes of their own.
While Jesse Lingard, the match winner when the two teams met in the Premier League on Sunday, was bright, others like Anthony Martial were poor. The Frenchman, without a goal since February, did nothing to suggest he will be anything more than a substitute when Aston Villa come to Old Trafford on Sunday. The regulars will be back for that one.
“Every game is important and you can see by the team selection that we’ve always used this competition when I’ve been here at the club to give minutes to the ones who need it,” said Solskjaer. “It’s a long, long season. I’ve never actually won this tournament, that hunt will keep going. It’s a trophy I’d like to have. We made decisions to get the squad up to speed.”
Solskjaer promised changes for United’s first involvement in the Carabao Cup and made 11 for the second meeting with West Ham United in the space of four days. David De Gea, Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo were all given the night off to make room for squad players hoping to impress like Eric Bailly, Diogo Dalot and Donny van de Beek. Dean Henderson returned in goal to make his first senior appearance since recovering from COVID-19 contracted over the summer while Alex Telles made his comeback following an ankle injury suffered during preseason.
The Brazilian left-back didn’t enjoy the best start after being brushed aside by Andriy Yarmolenko in the opening two minutes. He was fortunate that Jarrod Bowen, the only player from either team to start here and at the London Stadium on Sunday, scuffed the resulting opportunity. Telles wasn’t so lucky five minutes later when Ryan Fredericks blew past him on the left and squared for Manuel Lanzini to give West Ham an early lead that they never gave up.
He wasn’t alone in missing the opportunity to impress Solskjaer.
Martial toe-poked one half chance wide in the first half but that was as close as he got. Other than that, his evening consisted of a series of heavy touches and periodically being bundled off the ball by Craig Dawson.
When Solskjaer turned to A-listers Mason Greenwood and Bruno Fernandes in the 62nd and 72nd minutes, respectively, in an attempt to rescue the result, it was a surprise that Lingard, who might have won a penalty in the first half when he was pulled down by Mark Noble, rather than Martial was called off. It was a performance that shows why he is now United’s fourth-choice centre-forward behind Ronaldo, Greenwood and Edinson Cavani.
Martial’s recent record reads two goals in his past 24 appearances. He is running out of chances, although afterwards Solskjaer refused to single out anyone for particular criticism.
“I don’t think it’s right to go into individual performances,” said the United boss. “[Martial] was the same as the rest of the team. We played some nice football, we lacked some of that cutting edge and he knows what we want from him. He’ll keep working and get his chances.
“It was a poor start and then when we decided that we wanted to join the game we played some good football. Loads of shots, loads of pressure, very good attitude, but we lacked that little bit, definitely.
“It’s a clear penalty for Jesse again. Mark Noble falls and pulls him down. You can’t dwell too much on that. The first 10 minutes we were slow both in and out of possession and that is something we have to address. I wasn’t pleased with the start but we can’t find ourselves in these situations and expect to get wins, we need to start games better.”
David Moyes, meanwhile, had a night to remember. In his ninth game against United since they sacked him in April 2014, he finally tasted victory, even with Declan Rice and Michail Antonio watching from the stands. West Ham had not won at Old Trafford since May 2007 but they will remember this one, particularly after the manner of their defeat at the weekend — sealed by an 89th-minute Lingard goal.
United ended the night having had 27 shots but West Ham should have scored again late on when Yarmolenko hit the post. Henderson made two good saves — one from Bowen and another from Noble — to give United hope into stoppage time, but Alphonse Areola, making his West Ham debut, never looked panicked.
In a battle of squad players, it was West Ham’s who gave their manager something to think about.