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Leeds United 0 Manchester United 3: match report

Read a full match report of the Carling Cup third-round game between Leeds United and Manchester United at Elland Road on Tuesday 20 Sept 2011.


Manchester United were so in control of this Carling Cup tie, so committed to attack, that they could afford to finish with arguably one of the most creative back-fours ever in Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov and Fabio. Berbatov likes dropping deep but this was ridiculously deep.

Leeds were certainly out of their depth against Sir Alex Ferguson’s high-class reserves, utterly outclassed in the first half when the outstanding Michael Owen struck twice, showing all his old sharpness around the penalty area, and Ryan Giggs irresistibly added another.

Making his first start of the season, Owen certainly seized his chance – make that chances. “One was a bit of a mishit and then one as sweet as I hit them really,’’ said Owen. “It’s always nice to score. That’s what my game has been about all these years. You also try to contribute in other areas, but I was pleased with my goals.”

Owen has always believed in his ability, even with first Javier Hernandez and this season Danny Welbeck rising above him in the strikers’ pecking order at Old Trafford. He has stayed professional, not moaned, simply focusing on being ready when Ferguson called.

“The pressure is on,’’ continued Owen. “You don’t get many chances and when you do, it’s like you have to perform or it could be another couple of months before you see a pitch again. So it’s nice to prove to yourself and everyone that you can still contribute and play well. I’m 31, but I’ve still got a few years left in me. There’s different roles you have throughout your career and I’m doing that.”

At some other clubs, well-known reserves can become restless, voicing frustration at being overlooked but rarely in Ferguson’s dressing-room. Players know the manager will use them when the occasion arises.

“He was fantastic,” said Ferguson. “His second goal in particular was fantastic. I was really pleased for him. Absolutely, he’s still one of England’s best finishers. Unfortunately for us, he’s had one or two injuries and with Welbeck, Hernandez, Berbatov and Rooney, he’s not getting the games he deserves. It’s just unfortunate for him. Nevertheless, he’s a fantastic player to have around.”

As Leeds discovered to their cost. Their fans never stopped singing, never stopped backing their team but the gulf has rarely been wider.

Simon Grayson’s first choices had the life strangled out of them by Ferguson’s second string. The champions accommodated three debut-makers throughout the night, the assured Zeki Fryers and two substitutes, Paul Pogba and Larnell Cole as Ferguson reminded the world of his club’s rich reservoir of talent.

“They did well,’’ said Ferguson. “I thought young Fryer did very well. He showed good composure. He wasn’t fazed by it, which is really good because you want to see what their temperament is like because the atmosphere here is hostile and he coped with it very well. Pogba had a good 45 minutes and it was good for Cole to come on near the end. It’s good for them to get a taste of the atmosphere and what the first team is like.”

Ferguson’s remarkable team-sheet, showing 11 changes, was totally vindicated. Valencia was composed at right-back, Carrick scarcely troubled at centre-half, and the teenaged Fryers promising at left centre-half, delivering the occasional long driven pass and covering for Fabio when the Brazilian full-back pushed on.

Totally committed to attack, the champions really had only two midfielders, Ji-sung Park and Giggs dominating the centre, the strangehold maintained when Pogba replaced Giggs for the second half.

Ferguson’s approach was adventure personified, his midfielders and full-backs looking to feed a four-man front-line. Mame Diouf, eventually Welbeck, and the left-sided Federico Macheda, eventually Cole, kept seeking to get behind Leeds’ full-backs. Berbatov and Owen were all clever movement, soon involved in the first goal.

The Premier League pacesetters survived early Leeds pressure, needing Berbatov to thwart Tom Lees and Ross McCormack, before parading the class in their much-altered ranks after 15 minutes. After a bright opening, Leeds stood off and were punished. Berbatov was the catalyst for the breakthrough, dropping into midfield and sweeping a fine pass down the inside-right channel for Park.

Leeds were caught out by the speed and precision of the attack. This was Premier League reactions against Championship. Park turned and slipped the ball across to Owen, who neatly worked himself a glimpse of goal. Owen’s finish was not his strongest, lacking the emphatic nature of his second, but it still wrongfooted Andy Lonergan.

Leeds rallied, Adam Clayton going close but Owen, Giggs and company were too quick, too determined, too good. Shortly after the half-hour mark, Diouf set up Owen for his second, the ball drilled brilliantly past Lonergan from the edge of the area.

On a night scarred by unpleasant chanting, many from the away enclosure, the game briefly became fractious and littered with cautions. Fabio caught Bromby, Diouf went through on Aidan White before Robert Snodgrass clattered Park.

At least the half closed with a moment of class, Giggs taking the ball from Park, nutmegging Snodgrass before sweeping in a superb goal, killing off the game as a contest, confirmed when Berbatov went into defence.

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