From Jose Mourinho’s main men scoring the goals to Luke Shaw’s future, we pick out the talking points from Manchester United’s 2-0 FA Cup win over Brighton.
Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic scored in each half to see off Brighton and send United into the semi-finals at Wembley.
Here are the key issues from the contest…
United fail to thrill – but get the job done
This was not a performance to silence the critics of Manchester United’s style under Jose Mourinho. It was not exciting, with just two shots on target – but it was effective. And with a 2-0 victory over Brighton, Mourinho has steered his side into the final four of the FA Cup – and a step closer to silverware.
Those in attendance at a freezing Old Trafford watched on as Brighton were allowed plenty of possession as United sat back on their one-goal advantage for much of the second period. After the game, Mourinho called it control but made it clear he was frustrated with his team’s speed of attack. Indeed, the home side did not attempt a shot in the second half until Matic nodded in the tie-ending second on 83 minutes.
There were few real scares along the way – aside from a couple of blocks from Matic and Chris Smalling, and a smart parry from Sergio Romero – and ultimately, in cup competition, it is only the result that really matters.
United go into the hat along with Tottenham, who had comprehensively dispatched Swansea earlier in the day, while Leicester v Chelsea and Wigan v Southampton on Sunday will determine who else makes it to Wembley.
Jose’s FA Cup home comforts
Mourinho has won 15 of his 17 home FA Cup matches (D1 L1), winning all three with Manchester United by an aggregate score of 12-0.
Lukaku and Matic deliver for Mourinho
After Mourinho’s stunning pre-match press conference had made headlines, it was perhaps fitting the two United players he picked out for praise scored the decisive goals.
Mourinho described Lukaku and Matic – two of his summer signings – as “players with a different mentality, different quality, different background, with a different status, know-how,” and they got United over the line with a goal apiece in each half.
Matic was provider for the first, producing a fine cross for Lukaku to head in. The Belgian – who now has 10 goals in last 14 appearances – had described himself as Mourinho’s “sergeant” when he spoke to Sky Sports’ Thierry Henry earlier this month, and the striker and his manager exchanged fist pumps in celebration at the opener.
Matic made it 2-0 and effectively game over seven minutes from time, heading home a simple header after Lewis Dunk’s slip afforded him plenty of time and space to convert Ashley Young’s free-kick. After the match Mourinho again praised the “personality” of his key duo.
Lukaku’s FA Cup run
Romelu Lukaku has scored 12 goals in his last 11 FA Cup appearances – the only match he failed to score in of those 11 games was against Man Utd for Everton in the semi-final in April 2016.
Shaw hooked at half-time
If Lukaku and Matic are in the good books, it is safe to assume Luke Shaw most certainly is not. Hooked here at half-time, it is difficult to imagine the left-back still being at United at the start of next season, given Mourinho’s clear mistrust for him.
Despite the snow and cold conditions, Mourinho was unusually animated on the touchline in the first half – and much of his shouts and gestures appeared to be directed at Shaw, as he battled with Brighton winger Solly March.
It was far from a dire performance from Shaw, who created space and laid the ball back for Matic to set up Lukaku, but his manager was clearly unimpressed with the intensity of the defender’s play.
Shaw has made just 15 appearances for United this season and featured for just 556 minutes in the Premier League. His lack of game time has cost him a place in the England squad in a World Cup year and, after four difficult years at the club, this felt like a step closer to the end.
Sanchez and Pogba sit it out
Hidden away beneath hats, snoods and thermal jackets, Alexis Sanchez and Paul Pogba shivered the night away on the United bench. Unused subs, watching on from the sidelines.
Despite United’s clear lack of attacking thrust and creativity on the field, Mourinho declined to unleash his two under-performing superstars. For Sanchez, it was his first time out of the team since arriving from Arsenal in January. Pogba is getting used to being among the substitutes, sat on the bench at kick-off for the third time in five games.
Was this a message for United’s big-name players? With one goal and no assists from 10 appearances, there had been calls from some United supporters for Sanchez to be withdrawn, while the search for Pogba’s top form has proved elusive for much of this season.
Mourinho will hope the pair will be spurred on by the frustrations of missing out and return from the international break reinvigorated for the run-in.
The best clips from Jose Mourinho's emotional defence of his record at Manchester United Romero impresses
David de Gea has rightly been praised this season for his excellent levels in the Premier League and Champions League, but Romero delivered a reminder on Saturday that United also have a first-class back-up option.
There was a stunning save to parry Jurgen Locadia’s long-range dig, and in the first half he reacted well to push away Lewis Dunk’s header.
Romero has not conceded a goal in four FA Cup ties this season and Argentina’s number one – who was trusted in goal for the successful Europa League run last year – gives Mourinho a great alternative for these ties.