Sanchez makes impact, Rashford ends goalless run as Man United beat Yeovil
YEOVIL, England -- Three points on Manchester United's 4-0 win vs. Yeovil in the FA Cup fourth round.
1. United do enough to go through
This was that most pleasing of football occasions: a match from which everyone came away with heads held high.
Manchester United eventually cruised to a 4-0 win against opponents 21st in England's fourth tier, but the underdogs gave Jose Mourinho's side more than one scare in the first half and the final score was slightly harsh. For United there was the relief of an upset avoided and the encouragement of a positive debut for Alexis Sanchez, who took little time to make an impact four days after his move from Arsenal.
A packed, buoyant Huish Park almost saw the hosts get off to a dream start. Only seven minutes had passed when Jordan Green, running through on the left, had a chance to make the headlines only to see Sergio Romero block with his legs. Yeovil were the brighter side early on and had an even better opportunity on the quarter-hour when towering left-back Omar Sowunmi, completely unmarked from a deep free kick, headed straight at the United goalkeeper.
The Premier League side could not have argued if they had fallen behind and United's first threat came midway through the opening half when Marcus Rashford, trying to take the ball past goalkeeper Artur Krysiak, ran it out of play. Yeovil's keeper was extended again shortly afterward, pushing Scott McTominay's low shot wide after good work from Juan Mata and Sanchez.
United began to take control, although Yeovil were hardly on the rack until Rashford's 40th-minute opener. It came after good work from Sanchez, who cut infield and slipped the ball through; defender Tom James should have cleared but, as he dithered, Rashford stole in to inflict the punishment.
Rashford could have sealed the tie five minutes after half-time when his deflected shot went just wide, but in the 61st minute Herrera did double the lead. Again Sanchez was involved, this time leading the counterattack after a Yeovil corner and playing a cute pass to his left after reaching the penalty area. Herrera's finish was clinical and the job was effectively done.
Krysiak saved from Rashford as United pressed for more goals and Yeovil threatened sporadically but eventually tired, allowing Jesse Lingard, who had come on for Sanchez, to fire in a crisp drive and another replacement, Romelu Lukaku, to score with the game's final kick.
2. Sanchez makes an impact
"If Sanchez scores, we're on the pitch," came the chant from United supporters midway through the second half. There was no need for Yeovil's stewards to feel alarmed; it was not quite the perfect debut, but this was still an encouraging start. After working his way into the game he was his sharp and insistent self, helping set up two goals and suggesting there will be more to come.
What a night this was for the Chilean forward to make his United bow. Yeovil's fans lined up several deep around the side of the pitch to catch a glimpse of his warm-up and his name was booed playfully as the teams were announced. If hosting the tie was one thing for Yeovil, it was something else that this occasion marked such a defining point in the Premier League's most compelling transfer saga of the last six months.
"We think the best way for him to adapt to us is to play," Mourinho said of Sanchez's selection in a reshuffled side. The new signing started on the left of United's attack and, although he saw plenty of the ball in the early stages, took time to get going.
One attempted through ball for Shaw was telegraphed and easily cut out, while two crossfield passes could only find green and white shirts. A deft pass for McTominay's 25th-minute effort was a reminder that his gifts are generally more evident closer to goal than when roaming in deep areas.
When, on the half-hour, Sanchez sized up a 25-yard free-kick in a central area the evening's script appeared pre-written. Some of the United fans, assembled at the other end of the ground, thought his curled effort had crept in; in fact Krysiak had reacted sharply to gather low to his left.
By then Sanchez was noticeably growing in stature and sharpness and his role in Rashford's goal, which came from a characteristic foray inside, was reward for his endeavour even if it came with an element of luck. The rapier-like break and incisive pass that gave Herrera his goal was a better indicator of what he will bring to a United side that has sometimes struggled to be ruthless.
Sanchez left the fray after 72 minutes to be replaced by Lingard and the applause from the away end was appreciative; on this evidence he should give them plenty more to savour.
3. Mixed night for United's squad depth
United may have come out comfortable winners but doubts persist about their defensive depth. They struggled at times against Yeovil's relatively rudimentary strengths and Mourinho will surely be aware that better opponents would have punished them.
Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Victor Lindelof and Matteo Darmian came in for what should have been a morale-boosting exercise but, instead, left doubts about their readiness to step in should injury befall United's first choices.
Yeovil gave notice of the physical threat they would pose when their striker Francois Zoko was booked within 30 seconds for a late challenge on Rojo. Lindelof, in particular, was given a tough time by Zoko, who enjoyed isolating the centre-back when balls were played down Yeovil's left channel and twisted him inside out on more than one occasion.
Darmian found the quicksilver Green tough going at times, although the most concerning episode was the complete lack of organisation that allowed Sowunmi his golden headed chance; in the Premier League you tend not to get away with those. In the event United survived and Yeovil's threat, which should have brought at least one early goal, dimmed.
There was encouragement to be found elsewhere on the pitch; Michael Carrick, playing only his second game of the season and drawing level with Bryan Robson's 461 United appearances in doing so, was an authoritative midfield presence alongside McTominay and, further forward, Rashford's goal felt particularly timely.
It was his first since the defeat to Manchester City on Dec. 10 and the arrival of Sanchez raises obvious questions about his place in Mourinho's plans. There were signs that the two may be able to combine effectively, although the young English striker may feel he should have scored at least once more.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.