MANCHESTER, England — For 90 minutes at least, there was a sense of calm at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
Manchester United brushed aside Crystal Palace to book a place in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup thanks to a comfortable 3-0 victory and, for the first time this season, Erik ten Hag’s team have won back-to-back games.
Midfielder-turned-fullback Sofyan Amrabat impressed in his Man United debut, and academy graduate Dan Gore earned his senior debut on his 19th birthday.
Ten Hag was also able to give minutes to Harry Maguire and Anthony Martial, who scored the third goal, while Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford were afforded the night off. After lurching from crisis to crisis during a chaotic start to the campaign, it was almost serene.
“It was a good night, definitely,” said Ten Hag afterwards. “We dominated the game, we had some good attacks, control in possession and dominated the chances and scored great goals.”
The Carabao Cup already gave Ten Hag his best day as Man United’s manager when he won it last season, and he will hope that the start of the trophy defence can trigger a turnaround in fortunes for a struggling United side this season.
Palace will be back at Old Trafford in the Premier League on Saturday, the first of five United home games before the end of October. With five of United’s next six games in all competitions at Old Trafford, now is the time for Ten Hag and his players to steady the ship if they are going to do it all.
What Ten Hag would give for a quiet month and to let someone else be the Premier League’s crisis club. It was around this time last season that United began to put a run together that propelled them into the hunt for the top four and, very briefly, into the title race.
Sitting ninth in the table after six games, he would probably settle for getting close to the coattails of Manchester City, Liverpool, Brighton and Tottenham.
“The mood is always good, but of course when you are not winning at United there is disappointment and frustration, but the togetherness is always there,” said Ten Hag. “But we know we are not in the position we want to be, so we have to build up and catch and work on the process and the results.”
Palace, however, were never good enough to test any nervousness at the back and when Nathaniel Clyne blasted a rare effort high into the stands midway through the second half, the travelling Palace fans in the corner of the stadium began singing, “We’ve had a shot, we’ve had a shot.”
“The way the game panned out, United had complete control for long spells,” said Palace manager Roy Hodgson. “The fact is we set out our stall to confront this game. We have to accept that tonight did not go the way we wanted.”
It didn’t help that Palace goalkeeper Dean Henderson, making his debut following a £15m summer move from United, was forced off with injury inside 20 minutes. It was one of those nights when nothing seemed to go their way.
Midfielder and second-half substitute David Ozoh had a golden chance to score a consolation late on but dragged his shot wide when it seemed easier to hit the target. The Palace fans had long since decided to see the funny side and chanted, “We score when we want.”
There have been occasions this season when opposing teams have appeared able to score at will against United — particularly Brighton and Bayern Munich — and as happy as Ten Hag will be with United’s three goals scored, he will be equally pleased with a second clean sheet in the space of four days.
Garnacho opens the scoring for Manchester United
Alejandro Garnacho collects a ball from Diogo Dalot and thumps it into the back of the net.
All eyes were on the oft criticised Maguire, making his first start of the season, but he didn’t put a foot wrong and made a vital interception in the six-yard box to deny striker Jean-Philippe Mateta a tap-in with the score at 0-0.
Afterwards, there was praise from Ten Hag for Mason Mount, who got 45 minutes on his return to the team, and Amrabat, who filled in at left-back and in the centre of midfield.
“That is one of the reasons we signed him,” Ten Hag said of Amrabat. “Where the teams need him, he can play.”
The Jadon Sancho saga is still rumbling on in the background and key players like Luke Shaw and Lisandro Martínez remain sidelined with injuries, but it was a rare day when Ten Hag sat down after a game to speak positively about his team and his players.
His post-match news conference included a nod to the work ahead to rebuild the season and he added a warning that the “we don’t get too far ahead” — but it was still a night when the United manager went home happy.