Do NOT leave Phil Jones in a back two, beware the elusive false nine and target Manchester City’s rusty left flank… here’s what Manchester United must do to pull off a monumental Carabao Cup turnaround (or at least avoid another hiding)
- Manchester United have a mountain to climb in the Carabao Cup semi-finals
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men must overturn a 3-1 deficit from the first leg
- They were pulled apart by their neighbours at Old Trafford three weeks ago
- They will also be without their main goal threat Marcus Rashford for second leg
However, having already won at the Etihad this campaign, rivals Manchester United are better placed than most to turn the tide.
At the very least, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his side will be looking to avoid a repeat of the calamitous 35-minute spell in the first half that nearly saw the tie slip from their grasp entirely.
Here, Sportsmail looks at the key areas where United must improve from the first leg if they are to stand a chance of turning the tide.
Manchester United have a mountain to climb in the second-leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final
Learn to cope with City’s striker-less frontline
Manchester United endured a torrid opening 35 minutes in the first-leg as they were pulled apart by City’s front three.
Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling pulled United’s backline all over the park, with Phil Jones and Victor Lindelof simply failing to cope with the movement of Pep’s dynamic front three.
That was evident throughout a first half, when dropping off to recieve the ball afforded the trio plenty of time.
Solskjaer will need his back-line to be a lot more switched on to the threat, should City once again opt to start without a recognised striker.
Bernardo Silva took on the false nine role at Old Trafford and opened the scoring that night
Drop deeper at the back
Too often in that opening half on January 7, Manchester United defenders were turning and sprinting back towards their own goal after being caught out too high up the pitch.
The pace was too much for Lindelof and Jones, who were forced to dive into tackles at the last minute, such was their difficulty at keeping up with the play.
City’s second and third goals came from exploiting a high line that left acres of space in behind the red shirts. Riyad Mahrez was first to take advantage – rounding David de Gea after latching on to Bernardo Silva’s through ball.
The third was the result of United being caught out on the counter, with Brandon Williams failing in his bid to get back and prevent the attack from gathering pace.
It would be natural for United to play more conservatively away from home, but given the task at the Etihad, that might not be a given.
City players celebrate their third goal at Old Trafford, after getting in behind once again
Switch to three at the back
While United need the goals, it is important they can keep things tight at the back, to stop their workload for the evening growing.
Solskjaer experimented with three at the back against Liverpool and Tranmere of late, and will have been encouraged by the performance against the Reds, if not the 2-0 scoreline.
With the return of Harry Maguire from injury, United certainly have the options to move to a back three in order to cope on what will most likely be a busy night for the defence.
Eric Bailly has been back in training for some time and available to play, having appeared in three reserve matches to date.
His return should come as a boost for Solskjaer, but he has been an unused substitute in each of United’s last three matches.
The Norwegian appears reluctant to call upon the Ivory Coast international at this moment — an odd situation when there are question marks over Jones and his recent performances.
If Solskjaer is unsure on throwing Bailly into the couldron of a local derby, there is still the option of moving Luke Shaw into the three, allowing Brandon Williams to start at left wing-back.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer watches on as his side struggle to cope during the first leg
Riyad Mahrez rounds David de Gea on his way to making it 2-0 after gliding in behind
Attack with pace
United have to score at the Etihad. Twice.
Not the most straightforward task – and at least they do not have to contend with the complication of away goals – but they do have the added benefit of knowing they’re capable of it.
On their Premier League visit to City in December, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial grabbed the goals as Solskjaer’s men picked up an unlikely three points.
One of United’s biggest weapons that day was the pace and directness. Even their consolation in the first-leg at Old Trafford came courtesy of quickly transitioning the ball from defence to attack in the middle of the park after Kevin De Bruyne’s loose ball.
There is plenty of pace available to Solskjaer, with Martial, Marcus Greenwood and Daniel James all ready to go.
Anthony Martial’s pace will be key to unlocking City’s defence on Wednesday evening
Target that left-back area
There are few weaknesses in City’s squad, so United have to make the most of any chink in their armour.
One area that might provide some joy for the Red Devils is their right flank. City have used three different players in that position in their last three matches and it’s evident that there is no individual trusted to hold down the position full-time.
Benjamin Mendy, Angelino and Oleksandr Zinchenko have all been deployed in recent games and whoever starts on Wednesday night will do so without a run in the first team under their belt.
It provides the likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka with a target to potentially terrorise.
Find someone to replace Rashford
OK, we’re stating the bleeding obvious here, but this is an absolute must if United are to have any hope of overcoming the first-leg deficit.
In the two meetings between these sides already this season, no player in red has inflicted more damage on Pep Guardiola’s men than the England striker – who won and scored a penalty in their Premier League victory at the Etihad, before grabbing the consolation at Old Trafford three weeks ago.
His absence with a broken back has had huge ramifications for United, who have failed to score in the two league matches since Rashford’s absence was confirmed.
The lack of his pace and direct style blunts Solskjaer’s attack and leaves a massive void. Anthony Martial has been tasked with leading the line in his absence, and a reprisal of his own goalscoring performance at the Etihad would not go a miss. Mason Greenwood does provide another option, too.
Marcus Rashford has been a thorn in Manchester City’s side this season, but is injured