Manchester United turned on the style with a stunning victory against a dangerous Real Sociedad side to take firm control of the last-32 tie in the Europa League in neutral Turin.
A brace from Bruno Fernandes took him to 21 goals for the season whilst Marcus Rashford and Daniel James rendered next week’s return leg at Old Trafford nothing more than a glorified training game.
Here are three observations from an Ole Gunnar Solskjaer masterclass:
United seal easier than expected victory
When the draw was made, not many would have predicted the tie to be all but over after the first game. A Real Sociedad side with the twinkle toed – albeit ageing – feet of David Silva, ex Red Adnan Januzaj and leading hitman Mikel Oyarzabal had briefly led the way in La Liga and looked a difficult examination in the Reds’ quest to end a four year trophy drought and deliver Europa League glory. There’s a long way to go before that, of course, but this will throw down a gauntlet and serve notice to the rest of the continent.
After successive disappointing draws to Everton and West Brom, this was a decisive, clinical and professional performance from a United side which meant business from the outset. This was a classic away performance as we cut the Spaniards open at will and looked capable of scoring every time we went forward.
In truth, Solskjaer might even be a little disappointed his men ‘only’ managed four, such was our dominance and repeated intervention of La Real stopper Alex Remiro, who kept United at bay with a string of first-half saves before the floodgates opened. Fernandes scored a tap in and a close range finish, Rashford fired in one-on-one and James made it four late on. An excellent performance to get the job done. This competition may have its detractors and whilst it may not be the World Cup, we’ve gone four years without any silverware so beggars cannot be choosers.
Give the kids a taste of Europe at Old Trafford
Solskjaer gave a hint of the future with exciting teenagers Amad and Shola Shoretire on the bench with the Reds squad slightly weakened by injury. The former was given a ten minute run out but the latter will have to wait for his debut having not come on. With the tie effectively done and dusted as a contest, will the highly rated 17-year-old get his chance in the second leg at Old Trafford?
United face in-form Chelsea three days after La Real’s visit to M16, so I wouldn’t expect to see Fernandes, Rashford, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, David De Gea, Scott McTominay et al at all in the second leg.
Ole should save his entire first team for the visit to the Bridge and gives chances to Amad, Axel Tuanzebe, Shoretire, Ethan Galbraith, Brandon Williams, Donny van de Beek (if fit) and co, to show what they can do in European competition. I liked what Ole did with his selection tonight – strong enough to win the game and showing respect to the opposition – but a good balance to rotate and give key men like De Gea and Luke Shaw. United have so much more depth than last year and that will be crucial as we look to go deep in the competition.
Greenwood shines and Dan James silences his critics
Mason Greenwood was unlucky to be dropped at the Hawthorns against West Brom and continued his excellent form in the no.9 role here. He may not be getting on the scoresheet, but Greenwood is over his blip and has forced his way back into Solskjaer’s first-team having not been a regular starter earlier in the season. He again failed to register on the scoresheet, but played well up front and was denied twice by Remiro.
Greenwood has had his critics and has been on the end of a media witch-hunt, but there are signs he is getting back to his best. He even contributed at the other end, putting in a fine challenge on familiar foe Nacho Monreal and heading clear several dangerous crosses before half-time. He deserved a goal and had another excellent showing.
Speaking of which, so too did a player who has also had his fair share of criticism. Dan James was handed a surprise start and made the most of his opportunity, silencing any doubters whom may believe he doesn’t belong at this level. He set up the second for Fernandes and had a goal disallowed before finally getting on the scoresheet as he capped a top individual performance with a goal. This will have done his confidence a world of good having been forced down the pecking order. It’s great to see him have an impact and contribute. Two goals in two games now for the Welshman after scoring on his last appearance in the rout of the Saints. A goal and an assist on the European stage – so happy for him. Bravo!