Manchester United humbled by MK Dons
League One side fire four past Louis van Gaal’s inexperienced side in the Capital One Cup
Millton Keynes Dons striker Will Grigg celebrates his second goal against Manchester United during the Capital One Cup second round match at Stadium:mk, Milton Keynes. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA Wire.
Unlike the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United tactics playbook does not appear to have ‘Don’t Panic’ written in large, friendly letters on the cover. There are those who would suggest the acquisition of Angel Di Maria indicates it should, and Van Gaal would certainly be forgiven for muttering the words repeatedly to himself when he watches the recording of this match, because League One Milton Keynes did not so much beat his much-changed side as utterly humiliate them.
The match may have been made in heaven as far as the MK owner, Pete Winkleman, was concerned, guaranteeing the stadium would attract the highest crowd in its history, but it seems reasonable to suggest the League One club’s underdog status did not guarantee them neutral backing. Milton Keynes’s origins and United’s cash-draining owners, the Glazer family, represent two aspects of modern football that many traditionalists abhor, and those without a specific interest in either club probably felt a certain ambivalence regarding the outcome.
On the other hand, of course, it was a club whose annual wage bill of €3.8m would cover Wayne Rooney’s remuneration for no more than three months, and which had just paid €75m for a player over whom, as a winger, there has to be at least a small question mark concerning his ability to adapt to his new manager’s preferred 3-5-2 system.
In that respect there was almost as much interest in the manner in which Van Gaal would set out his team as there was in the personnel. Which was probably as well, considering only the goalkeeper, David de Gea, was retained from the XI which started Sunday’s draw at Sunderland.
In the event, a flexible 3-4-1-2 meant the Swiss Under-19 international Saidy Janko and Reece James made their first-team debuts on either side of the midfield four, while Marnick Vermijl made only a second senior appearance on the left of the back three. Van Gaal’s dismissal of his ability to play a central role notwithstanding, Shinji Kagawa began playing just behind strikers Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez.
Unfamiliar some of them may have been, but the visitors began rather impressively, breaking with pace and intent as Welbeck and Hernandez used the width of the pitch to receive the ball in space. In terms of chances created, however, a Hernandez drive deflected several feet wide was as close as they came to a settling goal.
They were not helped by having to make a relatively early change , when the unfortunate Kagawa had to be replaced suffering from mild concussion following a clash of heads with Darren Potter, but there was no excuse for the manner in which they fell behind a few minutes later.
Jonny Evans was under no real pressure when he attempted a short and simple pass in his penalty area, but the defender unaccountably miscued, giving Ben Reeves the chance to get to the ball first. Having done so, the MK midfielder was aware enough to slide the ball across for the striker Will Grigg to turn it in.
That United were rattled, mentally as well as at times physically – legitimately so – was beyond question. Nick Powell clipped a crisp drive a foot over the bar, but otherwise Milton Keynes, led by Karl Robinson, just about had the best of the remainder of the first half.
Van Gaal made another switch at the break, bringing on Andreas Pereira for Janko and moving Januzaj wide right, but United were fortunate not to fall further behind almost immediately, when Evans appeared to make little effort to get his arms out of the way when blocking Dean Bowditch’s attempt to cross.
Van Gaal used his third substitute, James Wilson, well before the hour, and the visitors momentarily began to put their lower-league opposition under some sort of pressure. Welbeck, allowed to drift across the MK 18-yard line, drove a right-footed shot only just wide, but Robinson’s side was always alert to the possibility of a break. The substitute Daniel Powell and Dean Lewington combined well to send Reeves away down the left, and the midfielder’s cross was cleverly chested past De Gea by Griggs.
Like the first goal, the second had originated in United losing possession, and such was again the case a few minutes later when another MK substitute, Benik Afobe, shot beyond De Gea from inside the right side of the area. Again Reeves was involved.It was 72 minutes before United’s first shot on target, a Wilson effort which David Martin saved well.
The MK goalkeeper also did well to touch a Januzaj drive around the post soon afterwards. The night ended with Afobe capitalising on a defensive error to shrug off successive challenges and slip the ball under De Gea.