Manchester United beat Astana 1-0 at Old Trafford in their first UEFA Europa League group stage match of the season. It was a frustrating game for United, who had made nine changes from the victory over Leicester City with Marcus Rashford the only player to retain his place in the team. 17-year-old Mason Greenwood scored the only goal of the game.
United got the breakthrough in the 68th minute of the match, five minutes after Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong were replaced by Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard. Fred started the chance by spreading the ball into Greenwood, who went to shoot with his left foot, opting for his right instead, drilling the ball low and hard into the far corner of the goal.
It could be seen as a learning curve for some of United’s fringe players who need time in order to find themselves playing in the first team. There was a distinct lack of creativity in the team against Astana but that does not mean that these players are not good enough. The headlines will be dominated by the fact that Greenwood opened up his account for United.
Mason Greenwood is a player who will go from strength to strength.
His first United goal has been a long time coming. In the final match of the season, against Cardiff City in May, he had many chances to score. Of course, he scored in pre-season, but those goals are not registered on his record. This goal will be memorable for him. His first competitive goal for the club and his first in the UEFA Europa League.
This is where Marcus Rashford started his first team career and although he did not eclipse that performance, he certainly proved that he has what it takes to achieve at the club. He will need time to find his feet and become what he wants to become but it is clear that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will give him the opportunities to prove himself this season, which will be great to see.
Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong has the quality to succeed but should not be written off after a lacklustre match against Astana.
For weeks now, many (including myself) have called for Angel Gomes to be given the opportunity in the first team. He’s played little U23 football this season, which is the same for Tahith Chong. Watching both players over the years in the academy has shown the class of both players. Yes, they need to settle and find their form at this level.
Both players got stuck in against Astana, which was a frustrating match based on the defensive way the Kazakhstani team play. It would have been difficult for many players. Some have written off both Gomes and Chong, which is poor support. Rome was not built in a day and the Class of 92, if any of these ‘fans’ watched them, frustrated also.
Nemanja Matic really does not do much for United with pedestrian aspects to his game.
The Serbian midfielder captained United against Astana at Old Trafford but in terms of what he offered his club, it was nothing to write home about. He may have been frustrated in recent weeks after not playing, but there is a reason for that – he’s slow and adversely affects what this squad could achieve. I’m not sure what he will offer to United anymore.
He was a good signing under Jose Mourinho, as United needed some quality in the defensive midfield area but a few years later, it is not working. United, under Solskjaer, want to press high up the pitch and with Matic in the ball, he stops the quickness as he hesitates too much, stopping United from finding quick creativity.
Axel Tuanzebe is a great defender and the confidence gained will inspire him to succeed at the club.
The 21-year-old central defender will have been ecstatic to have started against Astana, which was clear after Solskjaer’s press conference on Wednesday. He did not let his teammates or his manager down, looking like he has played for United’s first team many times before, consistently. Tuanzebe is clearly the third-choice defender in Solskjaer’s squad.
His composure is something that will carry him through his career and he reacts calmly under pressure, which is something I would like to see against better opposition. Solskjaer will be impressed with his performance, which could see him given more chances, possibly against Rochdale on Wednesday, which would be good to see.
Sergio Romero offers just as much as David De Gea at United and is still a great rotation goalkeeper.
The Argentinian kept his 28th clean sheet in 45 appearances for the club, which means he averages a clean sheet 62.2% of the time, the best clean sheet record of any goalkeeper who has played three matches or more for United. He has not played a single match this season and step-in in for De Gea like he has been playing week in and week out.
Solskjaer will be happy with the depth he has in the goalkeeping ranks, and more importantly the defence as a whole, which has been strengthened with the signing of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka and in the last few days, the renewals of both De Gea and Victor Lindelof. Romero is a great second goalkeeper to have at the club.