Manchester United moved to within touching distance of the knockout stages as a Bruno Fernandes inspired Reds side put Group H’s bottom side to the sword and avenged our defeat on Matchday Three.
Despite that aberration, United are sitting pretty in their section, having picked up nine points from twelve and will qualify with a point from one of our last two group games. Had United won in Turkey, we’d already be in the hat but, as it is, we only need a draw against either PSG or Leipzig to book our spot in the last 16. Here are three observations from Old Trafford.
Fernandes et al serve up Solskjaer’s Turkish delight
This was the Reds best performance of the season, with the tie done and dusted by half-time and a superb showing of high octane, high energy and clinical attacking play.
It was United’s third successive win and there are signs that we’re finally starting to kick start our season. Solskjaer took no chances and named a very attacking line-up in a game we simply had to win, with Donny van de Beek and Bruno Fernandes dovetailing behind Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial. The quintet provided a quartet, with two goals from Fernandes – a rasping half-volley and a tap in – and a penalty from Rashford, with the Portuguese passing up the chance of a treble. Cavani’s touch and awareness proved crucial in the second goal as he forced Gunok into a mistake and gave Fernandes an early Christmas present.
It was the first time United had been three goals up at half-time in Europe since the famous rout of Roma in 2007, and although the Reds briefly had to weather a storm, the result was never really in doubt. Van de Beek caught the eye with his intricate passing, energy, forward runs and link play and surely has to start at Southampton at the weekend. Dessert may have turned sour for United last time out, but this time around there was a very sweet helping of Turkish delight.
Reds surviving – and thriving – in Group of Death
When the Champions League draw was made, United were dealt what many pundits and fans considered to be the toughest possible hand. Every year, there’s always one group dubbed the “Group of Death” and this time, the Reds were put in it, alongside last season’s runners up and beaten semi-finalists, with United tipped to struggle. How would we do as outsiders against two of Europe’s elite? Four games in and, although we’re not quite there yet, nine points from twelve and sitting atop the summit is a good position to be in. We only need to avoid defeat in one of our last two games to get through to the last 16.
An excellent win in Paris was followed up by an even better one against RB Leipzig, and – despite the blip in Turkey – we carried on where we left off here. The Reds will face Thomas Tuchel’s side next with the Parisians having edged the Germans to move into second place on head to head record. I see the Champions League as a bonus – I don’t feel we have a chance of winning it but it’s nice to test ourselves against top opposition and see how far we can get. It’s a good start and United now just need to finish the job.
Daniel James ends nine month goal drought
If there’s one United player that seems to have copped more flak than most, then it’s United’s Welsh wing wizard. Daniel James had a superb, red hot start to life at Old Trafford, as he scored in three of his first four games to herald his arrival as a wildcard unknown quantity from the Championship. Since then, James has looked like the second tier player he was not so long ago, often becoming anonymous in games and failing to contribute in any meaningful way. His last goal at Old Trafford came in the first game of last season, on his debut, when he thumped in the fourth against Chelsea, 472 days ago. He hadn’t scored for the Reds at all since the 5-0 win over LASK in March, nine months ago, as the pandemic began to take hold. It might only have been a goal to add gloss to the scoreline of a game already won against Turkish whipping boys, but they all count and he took it well.
Mason Greenwood set up his fellow sub and James took it well, timing his run to fire low past Gonak. I’m happy for him, there’s a good player in this lad but he lacks confidence. He’s shown he can still play a part under Solskjaer and his cameo tonight will have impressed his manager.