After a seemingly endless run of sitting in sixth place, Manchester United have the opportunity to step out for good, as a win away to Middlesbrough moves them up into fifth, although any other result means a step down to seventh place. Jose Mourinho has previously voiced concern over the result of this game and played a much-changed team from Thursday’s win against Rostov.
United started out playing in a manner that wasn’t far removed from usual, creating chances with no finish. Marcus Rashford got behind the Boro defence several times but failed to capitalise. United only opened the scoring when Marouane Fellaini towered over the opposition defence to nod in an Ashley Young cross. United doubled their lead as Jesse Lingard carried the ball forward on the counter, before firing a powerful shot from distance into the top corner. Middlesbrough then pulled one back with 15 minutes to go through substitute Rudy Gestede, before Antonio Valencia restored United’s two-goal lead just before the game ends, making the most of a Victor Valdes slip-up.
Following up on his impressive cameo appearance on Thursday, Fellaini put in another solid performance in midfield. He was the midfield’s main physical presence and kept things simple and tidy. He would’ve benefitted from having another player in the midfield who would allow him to press harder and to move further up the pitch, but that didn’t stop him from arriving at the penalty area to score the opener.
Starting another game at wing back, Ashley Young has now taken Valencia’s route back into the first team by adjusting to playing well in a more defensive role. He provided a terrific cross for Fellaini’s goal, and while he didn’t get forward as much as he might have liked, he still managed helped support players like Lingard to play their game. Speaking of…
Playing on the left-wing, Lingard was the main creative influence for United. He instigated moves to link up with Rashford or set him through on goal, one instance of which led to a one-on-one chance saved by Valdes. He showed more desire to run with the ball as well, which of course lead to his wonder goal in the second half. He started off as a more subtle influence on United’s play but grew to grab the limelight as the game wore on, up until he was forced off due to an injury.
With Henrikh Mkhitaryan sitting on the bench, presumably rested, there was a fair bit of expectation on Lingard to pick up the weight, and he delivered. Despite seeming to struggle with an injury before being taken off, he was key to United’s attack and grabbed himself a well-deserved goal to boot.