Manchester, Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton and Crystal Palace are among the clubs whose managers may have been given food for thought following the latest round of League Cup games in midweek.
Clubs are often criticised for making wholesale changes to their team for the League Cup, with 27 of the 32 involved in midweek fielding at least half a new side.
Arsenal made a full 11 changes for their win over Doncaster, while Chelsea, Manchester United and Crystal Palace all made nine, and Everton made eight. It was an opportunity for fringe players to stake a claim for a place in the first team this weekend – and here are six that did their chances no harm…
“Anthony Martial wanted to do things today,” Jose Mourinho said after the 4-1 win over Burton. “Some of them he did amazingly well, others not so well, but he was always trying, and that commitment and happiness on the pitch is always important.”
It is that desire which Mourinho is likely to be most pleased about. Martial frustrated his manager last season when he looked off the boil for almost the entire campaign, but the France forward has returned this summer with the bit between his teeth.
He has been in and out of the United first XI so far this season, with he and Marcus Rashford alternating on an almost-weekly basis.
In the Premier League, Rashford has been preferred, but Martial has enhanced his prospects with three goals off the bench – only one fewer than his tally for the entire league season last year.
The former Monaco star clearly wanted to prove a point on Tuesday when, rather than mope about being selected for the stiffs, Martial drove United forward. Rashford got United going with an early brace, but Martial laid on the third for Jesse Lingard before combining with Rashford on his way to scoring United’s fourth.
In this mood, Martial is capable of anything. United fans would love to see him and Rashford in the same team more often, and the pace they would provide either side of Romelu Lukaku is a mouthwatering prospect – one that becomes more likely with each man-of-the-match performance like Martial turned in against Burton.
His goal may have sealed the title for Chelsea last season, but Michy Batshuayi still appears to have it all to do if he is to convince Antonio Conte he can make the step up from back-up striker. So a hat-trick against Nottingham Forest did his cause no harm whatsoever.
There was little spectacular about Batshuayi’s treble. In fact, it is doubtful whether he knew anything about his third which was a result of a rebound off the bar following Kenedy’s shot cannoning back into the Forest goal off his thigh. But the Belgian showed again that he can lead the line and provide a clinical touch when required.
Musonda also got his name on the scoresheet, and the 20-year-old admitted he was in tears during his celebration. The Belgian has had to wait for a start for five years since joining the club from Anderlecht, but he made the most of his opportunity with a goal and an impressive all-round performance.
This could be a make-or-break season for Musonda the Stamford Bridge. Having returned early from his loan at Real Betis last season, the Belgium Under-21 international has seen action from the bench in the Community Shield and during the opening day defeat to Burnley.
When his opportunities come, Musonda must take them. Conte will have been encouraged by his contribution against Forest.
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Judging by the fact the Emirates hosted Arsenal’s lowest crowd since they moved from Highbury, the visit of Doncaster failed to capture the imagination of Gunners fans. But the 44,064 who turned up were treated to a rare sight: Jack Wilshere completing 90 minutes in an Arsenal shirt.
Not since September 23, 2014 has the midfielder managed to last the distance for Arsene Wenger’s side, but the midfielder did his cause no harm whatsoever as he tries to convince the manager he has a future – short and long term – at the club.
“Overall it was the ideal game for him to gain confidence and fitness,” said Wenger.
Indeed. League One strugglers Doncaster kept Arsenal at bay for most of the 90 minutes, save for Theo Walcott’s first-half winner, but Darren Ferguson’s side rarely stretched the hosts. It was the perfect environment for Wilshere to ease himself back into first-team action, and the England international demonstrated glimpses of what we all know he is capable of.
His next test may come next week when Arsenal face three games in six days, with a journey to BATE Borisov sandwiched by Premier League visits of West Brom and Brighton.
The trip to Belorussia would be the ideal next step for Wilshere as he looks to earn himself a new contract or impress whatever suitors may be interested in taking him as a free agent in the summer.
The England Under-21 international received a standing ovation from the home faithful, who were probably just relieved to see the Toffees stop their recent rot against a Sunderland side which boasted between them more Everton appearances than Everton themselves.
Calvert-Lewin, though, offered a taste of his predatory instincts with two goals, the first seven minutes before the break with a tidy finish following some neat footwork to wriggle some space from three Sunderland defenders, and the second six minutes after half-time as a result of a well-timed run and a confident strike inside the keeper’s near post. The forward was only denied a hat-trick by the post which was clattered by his diving header.
“In a difficult time, the best medicine is scoring goals and winning games,” said Ronald Koeman afterwards, and the manager will have to consider restoring Calvert-Lewin to his XI for the visit of Bournemouth on Saturday.
The 20-year-old started the first two games of the Premier League season, completing 90 minutes in both as Everton beat Stoke and drew at Manchester City, and since he was dispatched back to the bench, the Toffees have lost to Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester United, conceding nine goals while scoring none.
Their lack of pace in attack was blindingly obvious, especially at Old Trafford, where Wayne Rooney toiled through the middle. If the former England captain is to thrive back at Everton, he needs pace around him to stretch defences and create him some space. Calvert-Lewin can be the man to make that happen.
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It was a far more positive night at Selhurst Park on Tuesday when Roy Hodgson became the second manager this season to claim his first win in charge of Palace in the Carabao Cup.
Mamadou Sakho managed an impressive 70 minutes on his first appearance since returning to the club, while Papa Soare made his return following a horrific car accident a year ago.
It was also a decent night for match-winner Sako. He came off the bench for 12 minutes during Saturday’s defeat to Southampton, and he needed only 13 minutes against Huddersfield to score the decisive goal with a header from Andros Townsend’s corner.
Sako has endured a nightmare time with injuries since joining Palace, playing only 134 minutes in the Premier League last term. But Palace’s failure to recruit another forward this summer offers the Mali international an opportunity.
“I agree we should have signed a striker,” admitted chairman Steve Parish this week. “We have got one striker and we are going to have to make do with that until January.”
If Palace are to persist with the 4-4-2 that Hodgson employed on Tuesday, then they will have to find another from somewhere. and Sako did his prospects no harm in becoming the only Eagles player to score against Premier League opposition this season.
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