Lingard, Lukaku see previously profligate Man United past Derby
MANCHESTER, England -- Three points from Manchester United's 2-0 win vs. Derby in the FA Cup third round.
1. United make hard work of Championship opponents
The last time Manchester United faced Derby County in the FA Cup, it was in the fourth round two seasons ago when Louis van Gaal's side won 3-1 and went on to win the competition.
This result was not quite so comfortable -- Jose Mourinho's team had to wait until six minutes from time for Jesse Lingard's fantastic strike to break the deadlock -- but, if United go on to replicate that 2016 run from, nobody will care.
United have already been knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Championship opposition this season, but there was never any real danger of Derby repeating what Bristol City achieved last month.
The hosts could have gone in at half-time 4-0 up; Lingard and Marcus Rashford both had clear sights of goal and Derby goalkeeper Scott Carson made good saves from Juan Mata and Paul Pogba free kicks.
Rashford's was the best chance of the half but he headed against the post from three yards after Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who struggled to find any kind of rhythm in the first 45 minutes, had crossed from the left with his best contribution of the game.
During a run of three straight Premier League draws over the Christmas period, Mourinho told his forwards they had to take more chances, so this was not a half to calm his frustration.
Derby's best offering was a Marcus Olsson header that Sergio Romero tipped over the bar. Manager Gary Rowett has more important things to worry about, with an unbeaten run that stretches back to November having seen his side rise to second in the Championship. The fact he made six changes suggested the FA Cup is not a priority.
But they hung in until the 83rd minute when Lingard, who once spent time at Pride Park on loan, beat Carson from 20 yards with a dipping shot. It was his eighth goal in 10 games and he is clearly United's most in-form player.
Romelu Lukaku, on as a half-time substitute for Mkhitaryan, wrapped it up in stoppage time after a counter-attack. He even celebrated, much to his manager's amusement on the touchline.
2. Mkhitaryan looks lost
After firing one cross into the stands, losing the ball to trigger a Derby counter-attack and giving Victor Lindelof a hospital pass, the Armenian international midfielder was replaced at half-time. Although Mourinho later said he apologised to the player for making the move, some might suggest it was for Mkhitaryan's own good.
Omitted from eight of nine matchday squads by Mourinho in November and December after the manager accused him of "disappearing" in games, Mkhitaryan was back in the plans over Christmas and the New Year. However, the 28-year-old lasted 65 minutes in a 0-0 draw with Southampton, but that was probably 15 minutes too long.
He looks like a player whose confidence is shot and it seems a long time ago that he started the season with five assists in three games.
United have the chance to cut their losses this month and sources have told ESPN FC that Inter are keen to take the former Borussia Dortmund man on loan. United would prefer to sell but Inter, with Financial Fair Play issues, have not got the money.
It is unlikely Mourinho will let anyone leave in January without signing a replacement after insisting his squad is already stretched. But, if Mkhitaryan stays, it is debatable how many more chances he will get after he wasted this one against Derby.
3. United still missing chances
Mourinho was not upset at his team's performances the recent run of draws that effectively ruled them out of the Premier League title race. He was more concerned about the finishing.
It was a problem that meant they were never really in contention at the top last season and, despite an impressive start to this campaign, in which they scored 23 goals in their first seven games, it seems to be back.
Lingard, Rashford and Pogba were all guilty against Derby: Rashford hit the post twice and Pogba missed a sitter in the second half after Carson had saved from Lingard. And, by the time Lingard did score, it was United's 27th shot but only their ninth on target.
It was one of those nights when you thought it would take something special and Lingard came up with it. Privately, though, Mourinho might think a couple of tap-ins would not go amiss,amid the 20-yard screamers.
Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.