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Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s vision and Anthony Martial’s cool finishing helped Manchester United into the English League Cup semifinals as two of the team’s out-of-favor forwards showed their worth on Wednesday.
United’s 4-1 win over West Ham at Old Trafford was illuminated by Mkhitaryan’s touch and eye for a pass in only his third start for the club since his high-profile move from Borussia Dortmund in the offseason.
The Armenia captain set up goals scored early in each half – by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Martial – before getting a standing ovation from United fans when substituted in the final minutes. By then, Ibrahimovic and Martial had each grabbed their second goals of a comfortable win that set up a semifinal match against Hull.
United manager Jose Mourinho has been holding back Mkhitaryan while he adapts to the English game. On this evidence, it’s time for the last season’s Bundesliga Player of the Year to be unleashed on a regular basis.
“We were waiting for his adaptation,” Mourinho said, “and it looks like it’s coming.”
Martial has featured more than Mkhitaryan this season but has also been often overlooked by Mourinho, who has many options in his attacking midfield positions in players like Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Wayne Rooney and Memphis Depay. This brace doubled the France international’s goal output for the season.
In the other quarterfinal match on Wednesday, Southampton beat a largely second-string Arsenal team 2-0 thanks to first-half goals by Jordy Clasie and Ryan Bertrand at Emirates Stadium. Southampton advanced to the semifinals of England’s second-tier cup competition for the first time since the 1986-87 season, and will now face Liverpool. The semifinals are played over two legs in January.
Mourinho was absent from the dugout for the match after being handed a one-game touchline ban hours before kickoff, a punishment being sent to the stands against West Ham in a Premier League fixture at the weekend.
Mourinho was able to talk to his players before kickoff and at halftime, and was able to communicate with his staff on the bench during the game. One of his decisions was to send Bastian Schweinsteiger on as a late substitute for Martial, for the former Germany captain’s first appearance of the season.
Asked where he watched the match, Mourinho, who wasn’t spotted in the stands at Old Trafford, said: “Secret.”
He was happy to speak more about his team’s display, one of its best of the season from an attacking point of view. United has struggled to put away teams at Old Trafford in the Premier League despite having lots of chances and shots – the team has drawn its last four league games at home – but is having no such problems in the League Cup and Europa League.
“I am pleased with the goals; the performance, we are used to,” said Mourinho, who added that his team produced “beautiful, attacking football.”
Ibrahimovic ran onto a backheeled pass from Mkhitaryan to put United 1-0 ahead in the second minute, only for West ham to equalize in the 35th through Ashley Fletcher, who spent seven years at Old Trafford before leaving this summer.
Martial tucked away Mkhitaryan’s cross to restore United’s lead in the 48th, and scored a second goal in the 62nd after good interplay from Ibrahimovic and Antonio Valencia. Ibrahimovic completed the scoring in injury time.
A disappointing evening for West Ham was worsened by the sight of Aaron Cresswell and Michail Antonio going off injured. On Tuesday, Liverpool beat Leeds 2-0 and Hull beat Newcastle in a penalty shootout.