Who will win the EFL Cup?

Northampton Town 1-3 Manchester United

Jose Mourinho avoided losing 4 successive games for the first time in his managerial career with a victory over Northampton Town in the EFL Cup. Manchester United started well and pushed Northampton back and it was no surprise that they opened the scoring. They did so just after quarter of an hour when Smith picked up a backpass. Rooney’s shot hit the wall and fell to Carrick on the edge of the area and he made no mistake with a first time strike. Manchester United looked to have doubled their lead on the half hour mark when a header hit the crossbar and fell to Rooney and he nodded in from close range, but the linesman’s flag was up for offside. Northampton started to come into the game after this and a shot grazed the crossbar. With only a few minutes left in the first half, Manchester United were unable to clear the ball from their area and Blind committed a foul. The referee pointed to the spot and Revell sent Romero the wrong way to level the scores.

Manchester United started the second half strongly and soon added to their firepower, bringing on Ibrahimovic and Rashford. Ander Herrera fired a warning shot around the hour mark, with a 25-yard effort beating Smith, but not the post. Within 10 minutes, he took another low shot from 25 yards and with Smith unsighted, it flew into the net and gave Manchester United the lead. The victory was sealed by Rashford, who chased a long punt up the field; he had no rights to get to the ball first, but a mistake from Smith presented the ball to Rashford and he was able to take it within a couple of yards of the goal before blasting into the back of the net.

The victory was a deserved one for Manchester United and they succeeded in retaining possession and forcing Northampton deep, isolating Revell. Rooney endured another difficult evening, with a goal disallowed and some heavy touches that saw the ball run away from him. Carrick had an excellent game in midfield and was rightly named Man of the Match. He controlled the game and offered Mourinho a reminder of what has, in my opinion been missing at times.

What did you think of the match? Do you think Mourinho should continue to pick Rooney? Should Carrick get a regular starting spot? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Watford 3-1 Manchester United

Manchester United have lost 3 games in a row following a 3-1 defeat at Watford. The first half saw Manchester United with more of the ball, but Watford looking more threatening. Ighalo should have opened the scoring when De Gea spilled the ball after colliding with Smalling, but he could only put it wide. Watford opened the scoring through Capoue, who fired in from around 12 yards out; De Gea’s outstretched leg was not enough to keep the ball out. Manchester United went close through Ibrahimovic (hit the side netting from close range and quite a tight angle) and Pogba (a wickedly dipping shot from 25 yards that hit the bar), but Watford deservedly led at the break.

Manchester United looked more threatening in the second half, with Rooney being moved further forwards. The equaliser came through Marcus Rashford, who finished from a couple of yards out. Instead of kicking on from there, it was Watford who took the initiative and Zuniga put them back in the lead from a header with 7 minutes remaining and Deeney ensured all 3 points with a penalty in stoppage time.

Manchester United seemed to lack balance and a midfield three of Pogba, Felliani and Rooney did not seem to work, although they did look better at the start of the second half with Rooney pushed further forward. However, I think the biggest problem in the midfield was the selection of Felliani, who is not a natural holding/ball-winning midfielder. Mourinho will need to solve that issue quickly if Manchester United are to challenge for the title in my opinion. Meanwhile, Watford will be delighted to have got a second win of the season and they looked good when attacking.

Manchester United 1-2 Manchester City

Manchester City claimed bragging rights in Manchester courtesy of an excellent performance from man of the match Kevin De Bruyne, allowing Manchester City to maintain their 100% start to the season at the home of their local rivals. Manchester City started well, keeping the ball and moving the defence around. De Bruyne opened the scoring in the 14th minute, although the goal came from an unlikely source as Iheanacho flicked a long ball on and De Bruyne nicked the ball from Blind, took a touch to steady himself and rolled the ball past De Gea, sending him the wrong way. City kicked on from the goal and continued to stretch the United defence, particularly when City attacked down the left. City’s second goal came in the 36th minute when a shot from De Bruyne hit the post and landed at the feet of Iheanacho, who made no mistake from 6 yards. A second goal was no more than was deserved, but six minutes later, the game changed; Bravo came out to collect a free kick, collided with Stones and dropped it and Ibrahimovic made no mistake. It was a technically superb finish from Ibrahimovic, who managed to guide his shot past covering defenders. Although an excellent finish, he should never have been given the chance and Bravo’s coming out so far was surprising because the distance and angle would have required an outstanding header to have put any pressure on the City goal, never mind scoring.

Manchester United came out strongly in the second half and put pressure on the Manchester City players in the way that the City players had been doing to United in the first half. Bravo in particular was put under pressure whenever he had the ball and he was lucky not to concede a penalty and be sent off when he dived in to recover after a heavy touch and caught Rooney, although Rooney got revenge (and a yellow card) later on. Rashford, a half-time substitute, found the net, but it was ruled out as his shot hit a clearly offside Ibrahimovic. Whilst Manchester United increased the pressure, Manchester City broke dangerously at regular intervals, going closest to extending their lead when De Bruyne hit the post. United played a series of long balls forward towards the end of the game, but City were able to hold on and claim the victory.

Who will win the FA Cup?

Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea

An under pressure Louis Van Gaal saw his Manchester United side draw 0-0 with Chelsea at Old Trafford, although with a more positive performance than there has been in recent games. United started positively and in the fourth minute, a left-footed effort from outside the penalty area by Juan Mata thundered against the crossbar. Chelsea soon had a chance of their own as John Terry was unmarked at a corner, but his header was well saved by David De Gea, who pushed the ball over the crossbar. This was Chelsea’s only real effort of the half, with United taking control and getting the ball wide. Anthony Martial had particular success against Branislav Ivanovic and within the opening quarter of an hour had hit the near post after cutting in.

The second half saw United continuing to control the game, but Chelsea probably had the better chances. Chelsea were denied through a fantastic double save from De Gea, keeping out efforts from Pedro and Cesar Azpilicueta. However, Chelsea’s best chance fell to Nemanja Matic on a counter attack; Matic was one-on-one with De Gea, but blazed the ball wildly over the crossbar from around 18 yards out. In contrast, Thibaut Courtois produced the save of the match to somehow deny Ander Herrera from 6 yards out, whilst Wayne Rooney put a volley at a difficult height over the crossbar.

There is lots of work for both teams to do. Chelsea looked well organised, but too often played a long ball out from the back, which was ineffective without a recognised striker on the pitch, especially one with the physical presence of Diego Costa. United were able to move the ball around well (Chelsea rarely put pressure on the ball except within 30 yards of their goal), but struggled to create few real chances despite the possession they had. An improved performance will have taken a small amount of pressure off Van Gaal, but another goalless draw will certainly not help. Guus Hiddink has to find a way of getting the Chelsea players to perform better and to their potential as they will require more than being well organised to seriously challenge for either the FA Cup or the Champions League, which is surely where the focus of their season will be once ensuring relegation will not happen.

Sporting shocks

Following Japan’s 34-32 victory over South Africa in the Rugby World Cup, BBC Sport has been asking about top sporting shocks. I think that Japan’s victory is the biggest shock that I can remember, but here are some others that I can think of:

Lennox Lewis V Hasim Rahman

Lewis was the heavyweight champion of the world going into this fight in April 2001 and was expected to retain his belt against Rahman, a virtual unknown. Rahman was only fighting because Mike Tyson had been suspended and was a way of keeping the champion busy. However, Rahman had not read the script and knocked Lewis out in the fifth round and became the champion. The rematch in November 2001 saw Lewis fully prepared and he regained the title with a knockout victory in the fourth round, but the result in April had definitely been a shock.

Telford Tigers 8-3 Peterborough Phantoms

I think this is the game I am thinking of and it happened in January 2009 (although if I am wrong and anyone knows differently, please let me know). The Tigers team at the time was not the greatest and were losing most weeks. Peterborough started well and were leading 2-0 at the end of the first. The result looked to be certain, with the only question being what the losing margin would be. I can’t remember if the Phantoms made it 3-0 or not, but I do remember the Tigers producing an outstanding 2 periods of hockey to demolish the Phantoms 8-3, with power forward James Knight helping himself to 4 goals. A great and completely unexpected comeback.

The 2012 Ryder Cup

After two days, America were in a 10-6 lead over Europe (they had been leading 10-4 at one point on the Saturday) and only required 4.5 points to win the Ryder Cup. Europe dominated the singles matches on the final day and the final score saw Europe winning 14.5 to 13.5, with the result being known as ‘the Miracle at Medinah’.

Manchester United 0-0 Exeter City

The third round of the FA Cup in the 2004/05 season saw non-league Exeter City travel to Manchester United. Even with Manchester United naming a weakened side, they were still expected to win comfortably against their opponents, especially as they had home advantage. Despite dominating the game, Exeter stuck ruggedly to their task and claimed a memorable draw. For the replay at Exeter, Sir Alex Ferguson named a much stronger side who won 2-0, but the draw at Old Trafford arguably ended the Manchester United careers of several players who started that day.

Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan (Liverpool win 3-2 on penalties)

The final of the Champions League saw Liverpool take on AC Milan in Istanbul. Milan scored in the first minute through the highly unlikely figure of Paolo Maldini and they extended that lead with two further goals in the second half. Convinced the game was over, some Liverpool fans were seen leaving at half time. However, 3 goals in 5 minutes in the second half saw Liverpool level the scores before going on to claim victory in the penalty shoot-out. A shock result, especially after the half time score; also, Italian teams are famed for being defensively sound, so for one of them to blow a 3-0 lead made it an even bigger shock.

Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich

A shock result because of the dramatic way that it happened; Munich were winning 1-0 in the 90th minute following a 6th minute goal by Basler and were moments away from lifting the trophy. However, Manchester United levelled in stoppage time through Sheringham and then took the lead and victory with a further goal in stoppage time from Solskjaer.

Denmark 1992

A complete shock at Euro 92, as Denmark beat Germany 2-0 in the final. Whilst that result was a shock, the bigger shock was that Denmark were there at all; they had not qualified for the tournament and only knew they were competing 11 days before the tournament started, replacing a banned Yugoslavia following the civil war there.

Brazil 1-7 Germany

Germany beating Brazil is perhaps not a shock, but the emphatic nature of the scoreline coupled with it being in the semi-final of a World Cup being hosted in Brazil made it arguably one of the most shocking results in perhaps not only the history of the World Cup but of football history itself.

Greece 2004

A highly unfancied Greek side somehow claimed victory at Euro 2004, managing to grind out results. Greece’s victory was arguably more shocking than the Danish victory of 1992 as the Greek side did not appear to have any standout players, relying instead on a strong, disciplined defensive game. It was rarely pretty, but highly effective.

Germany 1-5 England

Qualifying for the 2002 World Cup saw Germany and England in the same qualifying group. Whilst not the strongest German side ever, they claimed victory in the final match at the old Wembley (which resulted in Kevin Keegan resigning as England manager). The return fixture in Germany saw them take an early lead, before 5 English goals saw a shocking scoreline. I can remember the general sense of disbelief after the game.

I have only included shocks that I can remember seeing or having read about, thus not including other notable sporting shocks from the past.