Mason Greenwood made the difference as Manchester United battled hard to grab a 1-0 win over Astana in their UEFA Europa League opener on Thursday.
Manchester United thoroughly dominated the proceedings all through the game. But, for more than one reason, they were left frustrated as the deadlock-breaking goal evaded them. Fred was the first player to come close to scoring, when his long-range effort smashed the crossbar in the third minute.
It was then Marcus Rashford’s turn to be thwarted, with Astana goalkeeper Nenad Eric making two saves from point-blank range, although the Englishman should have done better when he received a floating ball from Marcos Rojo. Mason Greenwood too came within inches of giving Manchester United the lead when his effort went whizzing past the post.
The second half was more of the same, with Rojo, Greenwood, Rashford and Jesse Lingard all coming close. But, just when it looked like Astana would hold on for a draw, the deadlock was broken at long last, as Greenwood struck a fine right-footed finish to hand Manchester United all three points.
Manchester United had only just grabbed the win but it was a win nonetheless, as they won back-to-back games for the first time since March. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men following their hard-fought win.
Sergio Romero: 6/10
A quiet evening for Romero, who was a spectator for much of the ninety minutes, with the game largely being played out in the opposition half. Had more work to do with his feet than he did with his gloves and he excelled in helping Manchester United play out from the back. Extended his incredible clean sheet record for the club – this was his 28th in his 45th appearance.
Diogo Dalot: 5/10
Making his first appearance of the season, Dalot saw a lot of the ball, more than Rojo on the opposite flank. But, the young full-back failed to do much from all the possession he enjoyed.
Apart from a fantastic chance that he created out of nothing, the Portuguese failed to add any substance from the right flank and dreadfully missed from point-blank range. Left a lot of space in behind him, which was exploited when Astana finally started countering in the second half. Back to the drawing board.
Axel Tuanzebe: 7/10
Tuanzebe is one of the youngsters who will hope to use the Europa League as a platform to stake claim for a bigger role in the side. And, the central defender did just that on Thursday, dominating the aerial battle against his opponents, winning six duels in the air, four more than anyone else on the pitch.
Composed on the ball, Tuanzebe helped Manchester United build out from the back quite well. Should be in the reckoning if Victor Lindelof does not improve his form in the coming weeks.
Phil Jones: 6/10
The senior figure in the Manchester United defence had an easy outing against Astana. Jones kept the backline disciplined whenever the visitors looked to take the game to them. Called into action just once, when he made a fantastic recovery tackle to snuff out the danger in the box.
Marcos Rojo: 8/10
After a summer of agony and with a possible January exit on the cards, this was Rojo’s chance to make a point. And, he did just that. While he did not see a lot of the action, as compared to Dalot, the Argentine was far more effective with the ball at his feet and was easily Manchester United’s best player on the night.
Rojo floated the ball into dangerous areas plenty of times and would have even had a hat-trick of assists on another day. Was so in the mood that he pulled off a cheeky Rabona as well. A big step in the right direction. Could see some more minutes coming his way as long as Luke Shaw is out.
Nemanja Matic: 6/10
Manchester United captain for the day, Matic was also one of the players who was looking to win Solskjaer over. But, after a mixed bag of a performance, it is unlikely the Serb did that. More adventurous than usual as found teammates in pockets of spaces.
But, as has become a running trend lately, he was easily overrun when Astana countered. Should be back on the bench when Paul Pogba regains full fitness, especially with Fred impressing a great deal on the night.
Fred’s game by numbers vs. FC Astana:
most passes (128/136)
most final third passes (43/49)
most ball recoveries (15)
most chances created (3)
2nd most interceptions (3)
most assists (1)
An impressive display. 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/wqLPCK7HQd
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) September 19, 2019
Like Rojo, this was Fred’s opportunity to redeem himself following a slot start to the season. And, the Brazilian went a long way in making amends by producing a complete midfield performance. Whiskers away from scoring twice, once with a long-range effort and later with a free-kick. But, he did make a direct contribution to the win, supplying the assist for Greenwood’s goal.
Fred’s numbers were truly staggering otherwise as well, making the most recoveries (15), most interceptions (3) while also creating more chances than anyone else on the night (3). Perhaps the only shortcoming was his tendency to take one too many touches as times. But, Fred has gone a long way in becoming a regular in the Manchester United first-team setup.
Tahith Chong: 5/10
Making his Europa League debut, Chong was rather underwhelming. For much of the game, the teenager looked like a deer caught out in headlights. Tried out on both the flanks, Chong failed to make any sort of impact and should have reacted better with an early chance in the second half. A big opportunity missed on a night when Greenwood made the difference.
Angel Gomes: 7/10
In what was his first ever start for Manchester United, the sense of the occasion could have left him overawed. But, Gomes exuded a lot of confidence and pulled the strings rather effortlessly in the no. 10 role, while also creating pockets of spaces with his clever movement. Set-piece prowess faded as the game went on, but that was a rare blemish on a strong performance.
Mason Greenwood: 7/10
Frustration was the name of the game for much of the ninety minutes for Greenwood, who struggled to get himself into the game bar a couple of chances either side of half-time, when he was playing out on the right. Looked much more dangerous when deployed as the central striker and that is the position from where he ended up breaking the deadlock.
Receiving the ball from Fred inside the box, Greenwood created space for himself with a deft touch before unleashing a driven right-footed shot to score the winner, his first goal for Manchester United. Now the club’s youngest ever goalscorer in Europe, is this the start of a beautiful journey?
Marcus Rashford: 6/10
An agonising fixture for Rashford, who could have had a hat-trick on another day. Nenad Eric denied him with two saves from point-blank range, although Rashford should have done better with the second effort. Bailed out by the offside flag when he volleyed over the crossbar when clean through on goal.
But, it was not all bad from Rashford, who seems to have fixed his free-kick technique and was inches from scoring with a couple of dead ball situations. Also linked up well with Greenwood, notably releasing the teenager with a clever flick in the first half. Did a lot of legwork when moved out to the left. Would have loved to score a goal, though.
Juan Mata: 6/10
Mata’s introduction in the 68th minute set the tone for total domination by Manchester United at a time when Astana were looking to take the game to them. First-time touches opened up space for his teammates. Used his experience well to enable the narrow win.
Jesse Lingard: 6/10
Brought an injection of pace for the final 25 minutes or so. Nearly ended his scoring drought with a fantastic effort, but was one of those who were left exasperated by the brilliant Eric. A positive after a poor start to the season.
Ashley Young: N/A
On for the final 12 minutes, Young looked defensively suspect during his short time on the pitch, but did not have enough time to make an impact going forward.