Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic lauded star team-mate Anthony Martial following his first senior hat-trick.

Martial scored his maiden treble as United outclassed Sheffield United 3-0 at Old Trafford in the Premier League on Wednesday.

A first-half brace set the tone before Martial became the first United player to celebrate a Premier League hat-trick since Robin van Persie in 2013.

Martial has scored a career-high 14 Premier League goals and 19 across all competitions this season as Matic hailed the French forward.

"I think it was very important for him to score goals, for every striker it's important, for his confidence," Matic told MUTV.

"I'm happy that our strikers are in good condition, tonight Anthony was man of the match, every chance he had went in.

"Let's see in the future what he can do for us. But I'm happy for him. Congratulations to him."

Matic also produced an impressive performance alongside Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes in midfield as United kept their Champions League bid on track.

Fernandes and Pogba started together for the first time for United, who extended their unbeaten run to 13 matches in all competitions, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men fifth in the table – two points behind Chelsea and six adrift of stuttering third-placed Leicester City.

Matic said: "I think it's always good play with top players. Not only them, we're lucky we have top players in every position.

"So tonight I played with Bruno and Paul, I think we did well, it was good there, I'm sure in the future we can improve a lot together, and also with Scott [McTominay] and Fred, whoever plays with us; I'm happy with the team performance and the way we controlled the game.

"I think we had control during all 90 minutes, of course we knew they were going to have some dangerous counter-attacks because tactically they play well.

"We analysed them very well, we treated them with respect, I'm so happy with the team performance, 3-0 against a team who creates problems for every team in the Premier League."

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said the in-form Red Devils are eyeing third position in the race for Champions League football after outclassing Sheffield United 3-0.

Anthony Martial scored his first senior hat-trick as United kept their Champions League bid on track against the Blades at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

A first-half brace set the tone before Martial became the first United player to score a Premier League hat-trick since Robin van Persie in 2013.

The comprehensive victory extended United's unbeaten run to 13 matches in all competitions, with Solskjaer's men fifth in the table – two points behind Chelsea and six adrift of stuttering third-placed Leicester City.

Asked about United's run-in with Leicester dropping points, Solskjaer told reporters: "I've never said fourth is our aim! We want to go third or fourth, but we have to focus on each game as it comes."

United won the opening leg of their Europa League last-16 tie against LASK 5-0 prior to the coronavirus pandemic, while they also earned an FA Cup quarter-final meeting with Norwich City.

"There are two cups [the Europa League and FA Cup] there for us as well, so one game at a time and hopefully, by the end, we can have the points we need and maybe only have two teams in front of us," Solskjaer continued.

All eyes were on Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba as the star duo started together in United's midfield for the first time in Manchester midweek.

But Nemanja Matic – who had been tipped to leave United at the start of the season following his initial struggle for first-team football – produced another impressive performance in the middle of the park, which earned praise from boss Solskjaer.

"Nemanja is playing some of his best football I have to say," Solskjaer said post-game.

"He's had a good pre-season for the first time in many, many years. Today as well, he dictated the game out there. His experience is vital for us.

"I'm very, very happy we've seen the best of Nemanja. He will be important for us. It's down to performances and if Nemanja wants to stay but at moment he is playing fantastic."

United are back in action with the FA Cup clash against Norwich on Saturday.

For the first time in a while, there is a genuine and understandable enthusiasm around Manchester United's midfield options.

Bruno Fernandes settled exceptionally quickly following his January move from Sporting CP, Fred has established himself in the team and produced a string of positive performances, Scott McTominay continues to improve and speculation relating to Paul Pogba has gone quiet.

Now there is reportedly increasing confidence of being able to sign Ajax star Donny van de Beek, a key figure in the Dutch side's march to the Champions League semi-finals last year.

The Netherlands international had been heavily linked with Real Madrid, with claims a deal had already been agreed between the club and player, but those reports have since cooled.

There's little doubt Van de Beek would be a fine addition at Old Trafford, but would the fans' ideal midfield trio comprising of Pogba, Fernandes and the 23-year-old be too unbalanced?

More responsibility, greater productivity

One of Van de Beek's biggest strengths is his well-rounded style of play, and it is especially relevant when looking at the roles he has played across the past two seasons.

Last term he was regularly deployed in an attack-minded position ahead of Frenkie de Jong, whereas in 2019-20 he was largely used in a deeper role, helping to fill the void left by his international colleague's departure to Barcelona.

Therefore, if we accept Pogba and Fernandes would automatically fill the first two midfield spots at United, it is likely Van de Beek would be asked to play a deep-lying role if he was to move to Old Trafford.

This certainly did not negatively impact his influence for Ajax in 2019-20, however, even with respect to his attacking output.

Across all competitions, he averaged more touches of the ball (53.5 to 46.7) per game this season, while his touches in the opposition's penalty area also increased from 5.9 to 6.9.

The fact Van de Beek saw more of the ball reflects in his higher passing frequency (up to 38.8 per match from 33.1), and the accuracy of that distribution was 81 per cent, having been at 79 last term.

Understandably he did not average as many shots per game (down from 2.1 to 1.9), but his chance creation increased to 1.8 from 1.6 in 2018-19.

While these were mostly slight changes, it does highlight a suitability for the position – the fact his attacking productivity generally increased, even from a deeper role, speaks volumes for his influence, particularly given Ajax were widely accepted to have been less impressive collectively this term.

The best option for a defensive role?

From a defensive perspective, there were not major changes to Van de Beek's contributions in 2019-20. He still averaged five recoveries, one interception and two tackles per game, while his participation in duels (from 8.0 to 8.4) and duels won (from 4.2 to 4.4) were up slightly in all competitions.

But it is worth remembering Ajax were generally a dominant force in matches – they spent more time with the ball than without it, and Van de Beek's influence was most felt when they were on the attack.

Fred and Nemanja Matic – who also enjoyed something of a resurgence before the season's suspension – would likely be those most threatened by Van de Beek's arrival.

But both can claim a better frequency of interceptions, with Matic averaging 1.2 per Premier League game and Fred 1.4, while they also complete more passes per match – 46 and 53, respectively.

And although Van de Beek's all-action approach serves him well, Matic and Fred both out-do him with respect to average duels; the Serbian is involved in 10 per top-flight game, the Brazilian 12.

While neither boast Van de Beek's effectiveness in attack, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could argue that is not their job if occupying a deep position.

A replacement for Pogba?

While Van de Beek's game was not hurt by operating in a deeper role this term, he is clearly at his most useful when in possession, and he has also been praised for his clinical nature in front of goal.

After all, in the Eredivisie this season his expected goals (xG) was 5.5 but he scored eight times. Similarly, in the Champions League, he got a pair of goals despite his xG being 1.3.

Were United to sign Van de Beek as a deep-lying midfielder whom the defensive burden was on, there is a strong chance the Premier League would not see the best of him. It would be bold to expect a similar attacking output from him in England's top flight if he was also tasked with protecting the defence.

But if he was to be seen as a long-term replacement for Pogba, there is an equally arguable case that United's overall midfield unit could improve with his box-to-box capabilities.

Pogba – who has missed the majority of the 2019-20 season through injury – averaged 1.3 tackles and 0.5 interceptions in his 35 Premier League games last term, which is fewer than Van de Beek. And while people might be correct to point out the World Cup winner is more known for his creativity than his work off the ball, Van de Beek's average chance creation of 1.8 is also better than Pogba's 1.6 in 2018-19.

Either way, it seems likely Van de Beek would be a solid acquisition if United were able to snatch him from the grasp of Madrid – but his well-rounded game could see him pigeonholed and his influence limited.

Marcus Rashford can be one of the best attackers in the world, according to Manchester United team-mate Nemanja Matic.

England international Rashford has scored 19 goals and supplied five assists in 31 appearances for United this season, making it the most prolific campaign of his career.

The 22-year-old has not featured since the 1-0 FA Cup third-round replay win over Wolves in January, having sustained a double stress fracture in his back.

With the Premier League not expected to restart until mid-June due to the coronavirus pandemic, Rashford may be fit enough to help United push for Champions League qualification.

Asked to name United's best player by the Guardian, Matic said: "We have a lot of young players, but they have maybe not reached their top yet, but Marcus Rashford has the ability to be one of the best players in the world in his position.

"He's still improving, but he has everything to reach that top level."

The stoppage in global football came as United were enjoying an 11-game unbeaten run that saw them keep nine clean sheets.

Their upturn in form came shortly after the signing of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting CP in a deal potentially worth £67.6million (€80m).

Fernandes has been involved in seven goals (three scored, four assisted) in his nine appearances and Matic was not expecting the Portugal international to have such an immediate impact.

"Because I follow the Portuguese league, I knew he was good – even though he played for Sporting!" said former Benfica midfielder Matic.

"But I'm very surprised he adapted so quickly to the Premier League. He brings us a lot of qualities, like the confidence he has on the pitch – he always knows what he wants to do with the ball."

Matic is confident United are heading in the right direction under manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

He said: "Ole is a great manager. I think he has improved a lot since he came to United, and he is different now. I'm sure he has a great future here, and he will win us trophies."

Nemanja Matic believes Scott McTominay has what it takes to become a "legend" at Manchester United.

Having developed into a key component of the United midfield since breaking into the first team under Jose Mourinho in 2016-17, McTominay was sorely missed after suffering a knee injury in the 4-1 win over Newcastle United on December 26.

Since returning to action last month, the midfielder has helped Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side enjoy an 11-game unbeaten run in all competitions and scored the second goal in the 2-0 win over Manchester City at Old Trafford.

Matic, whose own form in recent months prompted United to trigger a one-year extension to his contract and open talks about a new deal, thinks his midfield partner would be an asset to any major side.

"We are always talking, especially when he started to play in the first team, but now he's a proper senior player he plays like he’s had 10 years in the first team," said on MUTV. "With him, we don't have any problems.

"I think he will be a very important player for Manchester United in the next 10 years or more. He is the kind of player and person that you always want to have in the changing room.

"[He is] very professional, with a lot of quality in the legs. His mentality is what Manchester United needs to have, so I think that with any coach, in any club he will fit very well.

"I'm happy for him and United that they have a player like that in the team. He just needs to continue how he's been working until now and I'm sure he will be one of the Manchester United legends one day."

With his future looking likely to be at Old Trafford, Matic feels responsible when it comes to guiding United's younger players.

"I remember when I was 20, 21, 22, I always looked to older players to see how they train and how they behave," added the 31-year-old.

"I think it's important and I hope I can help the youngsters in our changing room. Obviously, we have a lot of young players."

Nemanja Matic neatly sums up Manchester United's upturn in form in recent weeks.

The midfielder was considering his future in December but has now earned a one-year extension to his contract and talks have started over a longer-term deal.

The 31-year-old started only three Premier League games this season before the turn of the year but has become a key part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side during an 11-game unbeaten run in all competitions.

Using Opta data, we look at how Matic has turned around his United career - with a little help from a certain midfield partner...

Adding substance to style

Matic has always been regarded as a solid technician – his abilities on the ball and when distributing have never really been in doubt.

Even when it looked like his days at Old Trafford were numbered, one could still rely on Matic to be neat in possession.

But towards the end of last season, and when he featured in the earlier stages of this term, it was his effectiveness off the ball that raised concerns, appearing sluggish, slow and perhaps generally lacking fitness.

He is on the right track again now, however. Over United's unbeaten run, he has averaged three tackles per match, a figure only Fred and Andreas Pereira can match – though the latter has played significantly fewer minutes.

Matic is also averaging two interceptions per match. Scott McTominay (three) is the solitary United midfielder to have a better record in comparison – but again, the Scotland international has not played as regularly as the Serbian.

Recoveries are another area Matic is proving effective in, with eight per game, the second-highest among United's midfielders.


Fred finds his feet

But undoubtedly a key element of Matic's renaissance has been the overall improvement among United's midfield options, particularly with respect to Fred.

Even with Paul Pogba in the team last season, United's midfield was a real problem area. They rarely lacked control, teams often sliced straight through them and not enough creativity was coming from the middle.

The same cannot be said now. While Bruno Fernandes' introduction has obviously had an impact, a lot of it is down to Fred's adaptation. The Brazilian's well-rounded abilities have him excelling in many areas.

In 2020, Fred (546) is second only to Rodri (670) for successful passes, while his defensive side of the game has also seen him stand out.

The former Shakhtar Donetsk star has made 25 tackles, a figure bettered by only five other midfielders this season, 16 interceptions – behind just six other central players – and 92 recoveries, one shy of the leading figured posted by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

Matic certainly deserves praise for seemingly saving his United career, but on the face of it, he is being helped by the fact he is now playing in a significantly more effective and cohesive midfield.

Manchester United are in talks with Nemanja Matic over a new longer-term contract after activating a one-year extension to his deal.

Stats Perform understands the Red Devils have exercised the option to extend the midfielder's existing contract, which was due to expire at the end of this season.

Discussions have also begun over a fresh deal that could keep Matic at Old Trafford beyond the end of 2020-21.

The news reflects Matic's growing importance to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's plans just months after the 31-year-old admitted he was considering his future last year.

The Serbia international, signed from Chelsea in 2018 for a reported fee of £40million, made only three Premier League starts before the start of 2020.

Speaking to Stats Perform about his plans in December, he said: "To be honest, I don't know yet what I'm going to do.

"I spoke with the club, I said that until my last day at the club I will do my best and be professional.

"In football, you never know what's going to happen. My family is happy here, I'm happy, so we will see what the next step is, if I will leave or stay, but whatever we decide I'm sure that we will decide for the best."

However, injuries to Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay saw Matic establish himself as first-choice midfield partner for the in-form Fred, and he has only missed three matches in all competitions since the turn of the year.

His form has helped United enjoy a run of 11 games unbeaten across European and domestic matches and he was one of the standout performers in the 2-0 Premier League win over Manchester City on March 8.

In January, Matic admitted there was plenty of interest from other clubs as he entered the final six months of his deal, but he made it clear his preference was to stay at United.

"I can't tell who is asking for me but for sure, when you play at Manchester United, many clubs are looking to sign you," he said to reporters. "That's not only me, it's for every player – especially when you're out of contract.

"My first option is Manchester United, but if they decide something else then there are always solutions."

The coronavirus crisis continues to challenge decision-makers in football's corridors of power and could soon leave some of the game's biggest clubs facing contract conundrums.

Manchester United, Milan and Paris Saint-Germain are among the major European outfits who are due to farewell high-profile players when free agency comes into force on June 30.

Domestic leagues across the world appear increasingly likely to run beyond that deadline, meaning sides up and down the divisions could be forced to renegotiate deals beyond the typical expiry date.

It remains to be seen how governing bodies will approach the unfamiliar territory but Edinson Cavani, Mario Gotze and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be watching closely like dozens more across Europe's top five leagues.

These are the stars and solid supporting cast members whose contract situations are worth monitoring in England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

LaLiga

Athletic Bilbao: Aritz Aduriz (retiring), Benat, Mikel San Jose
Atletico Madrid: Antonio Adan
Espanyol: Ander Iturraspe
Granada: Roberto Soldado
Real Valladolid: Hatem Ben Arfa
Sevilla: Ever Banega (joining Al Shabab at end of contract), Nolito
Valencia: Ezequiel Garay
Villarreal: Santi Cazorla 

Premier League

Bournemouth: Ryan Fraser
Burnley: Joe Hart
Chelsea: Olivier Giroud, Pedro, Willian
Liverpool: Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne
Manchester City: David Silva (confirmed he will leave at end of contract)
Manchester United: Nemanja Matic, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Odion Ighalo (loan ends)
Newcastle United: Matty Longstaff
Tottenham: Jan Vertonghen, Japhet Tanganga

Serie A

Atalanta: Jose Luis Palomino
Hellas Verona: Fabio Borini
Inter: Ashley Young
Juventus: Gianluigi Buffon
Milan: Lucas Biglia, Giacomo Bonaventura, Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Napoli: Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens

Bundesliga

Bayer Leverkusen: Charles Aranguiz
Borussia Dortmund: Mario Gotze, Lukasz Piszczek
Hertha Berlin: Salomon Kalou
Schalke: Benjamin Stambouli
Wolfsburg: Robin Knoche

Ligue 1

Lille: Loic Remy
Monaco: Jemerson
Nice: Walter Benitez, Arnaud Lusamba
Paris Saint-Germain: Edinson Cavani, Thomas Meunier, Tanguy Kouassi, Layvin Kurzawa, Thiago Silva

Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic says Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has become a better manager since last year.

After a run of two wins in seven games in all competitions at the start of 2020, the Red Devils have shown encouraging signs of progress in recent weeks, particularly since the arrival of January signing Bruno Fernandes.

Thursday's 5-0 Europa League thrashing of Club Brugge stretched United's unbeaten run to seven matches, while they have kept clean sheets in six of those.

With a Europa League last-16 tie with LASK and an FA Cup fifth-round trip to Derby County to come, United have high hopes of ending the season with a trophy.

They are also just three points outside the Premier League's top four, making a return to the Champions League a realistic possibility.

Solskjaer's job appeared to be under scrutiny during the their more difficult runs this season, but Matic, who initially struggled for regular first-team football under the Norwegian but has become increasingly important to the side, thinks his manager is getting better with experience.

"He's improving, for sure, getting more experience, and for sure he will be better and better," Matic told Sky Sports.

"Like every manager … Carlo Ancelotti, now and 20 years ago, for sure he's not the same. He knows more, he has more experience. For sure, it will be the same as Ole.

"He is a much better manager than one year ago, in my opinion, because now he knows all the players, he knows exactly what he needs to do before the game, after the game. For his job, experience is very important."

United face Everton at Goodison Park in the Premier League on Sunday before the cup clash with Derby on March 5.

They then host Premier League champions Manchester City on March 8.

Perhaps Jadon Sancho will remain at Borussia Dortmund beyond this season.

Sancho, 19, has been heavily linked with a move to the Premier League after impressing with the Bundesliga side.

But the England winger could yet stay at Dortmund a little longer.

 

TOP STORY – SANCHO MAY STAY AT DORTMUND BEYOND THIS SEASON

Sancho is happy at Dortmund and an exit in the close season is not certain, according to Ruhr Nachrichten.

The teenager is contracted at the club until 2022 so may at least begin the 2020-21 campaign at Dortmund.

Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea are all reportedly interested in Sancho.

 

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Liverpool and the Premier League leaders may have received more good news. Sport1 reports RB Leipzig star Timo Werner's release clause is £25.2m (€30m) plus a guarantee of performance-related bonuses. Previous reports said the forward's release clause was £50.4m (€60m).

- Marcelo Brozovic has done enough to impress Antonio Conte. CalcioMercato reports Inter are ready to begin contract talks with the Croatia international, who is set for a salary increase but could also have his release clause of €60m removed. Brozovic's current deal runs until 2022.

- Could George Clooney be set for a foray into … Malaga? AS reports a group with business links to the American actor are in talks to buy a stake in the Spanish club.

- With his Manchester United contract expiring at season's end, Nemanja Matic appears set for a move from Old Trafford. CalcioMercato reports the midfielder's agents have offered the 31-year-old to Milan, Juventus and Inter.

- Leicester City are considering offering defender Christian Fuchs a new deal, according to the Daily Mail. Fuchs is out of contract at the end of the season.

Eric Abidal's interview tipped Lionel Messi over the edge.

Normally quiet, especially on social media, Messi used Instagram to hit out at Barcelona director of football Abidal, who had earlier suggested some players were not working hard enough prior to Ernesto Valverde's sacking.

Barca superstar Messi is reportedly unhappy with how things are unfolding at Camp Nou.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI TIRED OF BEING BARCA SCAPEGOAT

Lionel Messi is tired of being held responsible for everything that happens at Barcelona amid doubts over his future, according to COPE and Marca.

Contracted until 2021, captain and six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi snapped back at Barcelona director of football Eric Abidal for bad-mouthing players at the club as he discussed Ernesto Valverde's exit.

It comes amid discontent towards the board and Barca's struggles on the pitch.

Clubs in China, the United States and the Middle East would all be interested should the Argentine opt for a change of scenery.

 

ROUND-UP

- Has Paul Pogba played his last game for Manchester United? The Red Devils are resigned to losing Pogba at the end of the season, reports The Mirror. Linked to Real Madrid and former club Juventus, Pogba has not featured since December due to an ongoing ankle problem.

- Staying at Old Trafford and The Mirror says United will prioritise signing Aston Villa star Jack Grealish as fellow midfield target James Maddison nears a new deal with Leicester City.

Atletico Madrid will consider Mauricio Pochettino as their next head coach if they move on from Diego Simeone, reports the Telegraph. Pochettino continues to be linked with United, who are struggling under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

- Standard Sport claims Chelsea will sign Lyon striker Moussa Dembele at the end of the season after failing to land the Frenchman in January.

- Lille defender Gabriel Magalhaes is a target for Arsenal, reports The Sun. Arsenal enquired about the 22-year-old Brazilian's availability last month.

Milan snubbed the chance to sign Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic in January, says Calciomercato. Matic is out of contract at season's end but is open to extending his time in Manchester.

Nemanja Matic has said he wants to stay at Manchester United and will snub his "many" admirers if offered a contract extension.

Serbian midfielder Matic can leave Old Trafford on a free at the end of the season if United decide against renewing his deal.

The 31-year-old has started each of the club's past six matches in all competitions and scored the only goal in Wednesday's EFL Cup semi-final second-leg win over Manchester City, before being dismissed for two bookable offences.

Pep Guardiola labelled Matic "outstanding" after the match, and the former Chelsea man hopes United will reward his return to form.

"I've got a contract until the end of the season," Matic told reporters. "I'm at Carrington every day and open to talk if they think I can help. If not, life will go on.

"No discussions have happened yet, but my position is clear. It's a pleasure to represent this club. I came here to win and if they want me to stay then of course I'll give my best to win trophies."

Matic can already ink a pre-contract agreement with clubs elsewhere in Europe and revealed he had options.

"I can't tell who is asking for me but for sure, when you play at Manchester United, many clubs are looking to sign you," he said.

"That's not only me, it's for every player – especially when you're out of contract.

"My first option is Manchester United, but if they decide something else then there are always solutions."

United's victory at the Etihad Stadium failed to earn them an EFL Cup final berth as rivals City advanced 3-2 on aggregate.

Their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League also remain in the balance, with six points separating Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men and fourth-placed Chelsea in the Premier League.

Matic suggested more signings like Bruno Fernandes were necessary for the club to achieve success.

"The club wants to give chances to youngsters, and there is nothing wrong with that, but at a club like this, people also demand results," he said.

"Supporters are used to trophies. The young players are giving their best but they need time, and the problem is that in these kinds of clubs you do not have time."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer slammed referee Kevin Friend's "joke" decision to send off Nemanja Matic but was impressed with Manchester United's display in Wednesday's EFL Cup win at Manchester City.

Matic scored the only goal of the game in the first half, though the 1-0 victory for United was insufficient to book their passage through to the final, with City's 3-1 first-leg win ultimately proving decisive.

With United chasing a second goal towards the end, Matic was shown a second yellow card for a cynical trip on Ilkay Gundogan, adding to the earlier booking he received for catching Riyad Mahrez.

Solskjaer fumed at the dismissal and questioned why referee Friend was so harsh on Matic yet seemingly allowed several City players to escape punishment for infringements, with Pep Guardiola's men regularly criticised before for an apparent reliance on so-called tactical fouls.

"Of course, it's hard to come here [to the Etihad Stadium] and score a goal with 11 [men] never mind 10 [men], and it was never a sending off," Solskjaer told Sky Sports.

"It was an absolute joke, for me. It was ironic really that he gets a yellow on his first foul, almost gets a yellow on his second foul - which wasn't even a foul - and then the last one wasn't a yellow.

"How many times did they foul us? How many times was Daniel James fouled? How many times in the first half did they foul Jesse [Lingard]?

"That's the first question asked, and it shouldn't be like this because I'm so proud of these players.

"They've beaten City now twice in six weeks, at their place. We've come so far with these boys, they've given absolutely everything."

Despite the second-leg defeat, City will face Aston Villa in the final on March 1.

Manchester City will get the chance to defend their EFL Cup title in the final against Aston Villa after beating Manchester United 3-2 on aggregate, despite Nemanja Matic – who was also sent off – inflicting a 1-0 defeat in Wednesday's second leg.

City produced a wonderful display in the first meeting at Old Trafford and were arguably unlucky to only win 3-1, though it proved to be enough to send Pep Guardiola's men to Wembley even though they failed to meet expectations at home.

Despite finding themselves under extreme pressure at times in the first half, United managed to go into the break ahead thanks to Matic's satisfying strike in the 35th minute, casting some uncertainty over City's command of the tie.

But United were unable to use that goal as a launchpad, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men failed to craft further meaningful chances and Matic's late dismissal for a second booking effectively ended their hopes.

City looked eager to kill off United's chances as early as possible, with Sergio Aguero and Riyad Mahrez forcing David de Gea into fine saves in the first seven minutes.

United weathered that storm and took the lead just past the half-hour mark – Matic slamming a crisp half-volley into the bottom-right corner after Fred's delivery was only partially cleared.

Raheem Sterling seemingly erased United's lead just before half-time when he turned Bernardo Silva's pass home, but the England international had strayed offside.

Sterling had another opportunity in the 58th minute when he was played through on goal, but after checking back to evade Victor Lindelof and then De Gea, he blazed his effort over from 12 yards.

United were reduced to 10 men 14 minutes from time when Matic cynically tripped Ilkay Gundogan to halt a counter-attack, and City had little difficulty seeing out their aggregate win from there despite Aguero's late strike being disallowed for offside.

 

What does it mean? Bruno Fernandes arrival a necessity

Although United's midfield had plenty of bite from Fred and neat touches from Matic, creativity was sorely lacking – hence their difficulty to create opportunities.

Following Wednesday's news United have agreed a deal with Sporting CP for Fernandes worth €80million, it does at least seem as though the club's hierarchy is trying to solve their midfield issues.

De Gea gives United a chance

It is fair to say De Gea has come in for plenty of criticism over the past 18 months, and rightly so. But on Wednesday he showed just how important he can be for United, making several vital saves. His efforts proved irrelevant in the end as his team lacked quality in attack, but he at least gave them a chance.

Sterling fails to shine

Sterling certainly gave Aaron Wan-Bissaka plenty to think about, but he made an unnecessarily early run for his goal that was chalked off and then spurned a wonderful chance to make it 1-1.

What's next?

City go to Tottenham in the Premier League on Sunday, as Guardiola renews his rivalry with Jose Mourinho. United host Wolves the day before.

Paul Pogba has had his ankle cast removed as he steps up his attempt to return from injury for Manchester United.

The France international has only started one Premier League match since August in a campaign heavily interrupted by his fitness woes.

United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was unable to put a timescale on Pogba's return to action ahead of Wednesday's derby against Manchester City in the EFL Cup.

But Solskjaer reported Pogba has made a key step in his recovery following surgery, as has fellow midfielder Scott McTominay, who is no longer wearing a knee brace.

"It's hard to put timescales on long-term injuries because they also need the training before [being] injury-free and need to be fitter," Solskjaer told reporters.

"Paul's had his cast off and Scott took his brace off so at least they can now start doing some work on the grass."

Reports have suggested Pogba and McTominay are both targeting injury returns after the mid-season break, with United to play Chelsea on February 17 after a 16-day stint without a game.

After suffering a small issue in United's 6-0 FA Cup win over Tranmere Rovers on Sunday, Nemanja Matic is in a race to be fit for the EFL clash with rivals City, who lead the tie 3-1 after a win at Old Trafford this month.

Solskjaer added: "Just Nemanja got a slight problem, so he had to come off at half-time. He has played loads of football so hopefully we can get him back on the pitch, but I haven't seen him. 

"Let's see how he is in training. To make sure we give him the best possible chance for Wednesday night we took him off. I think he should be all right but let's see."

Eric Bailly is pushing for a return to the line-up, while David de Gea and Aaron Wan-Bissaka will be back after getting a rest against Tranmere.

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