Manchester United opened their 2019/20 Europa League campaign with a laboured 1-0 victory over Astana at Old Trafford, as Mason Greenwood became the club’s youngest ever European goalscorer.
The home side started well enough, stringing together some slick passing moves and enjoying plenty of possession, but struggled to effectively break down the Kazakhstan outfit, and came unstuck by both poor finishing and the cruel works of the crossbar – from a leathered Greenwood effort – when they did.
This led to a growing sense of frustration, and thus an increased freneticism in the second period, but apart from a few dangerous crosses, daring free kicks and goalmouth oh-so-nears, it was still fairly feeble.
Indeed, if any team was gaining confidence and purpose from the proceedings, it was Astana.
But then, finally, in the 73rd minute, Greenwood was at last able to break the Kazakh resistance, creating something out of nothing with a duck and a feint and a consummate finish through the legs of Nenad Eric in goal.
Not good enough tactically again. Thank God for Greenwood
— Mark Goldbridge (@markgoldbridge) September 19, 2019
This, as it so often does, both calmed and encouraged the home side, and the final moments were littered with chances to shore up the victory, with Diogo Dalot coming the closest with a how-the-hell-did-he-miss-that effort from five yards out.
Check out our full breakdown of the game below.
Key Talking Point
It’s not that United were bad. They had more than enough chances. It’s just that, well, they weren’t very good, either.
As is their wont, the collective youth on show exhibited the occasional flash of their potential brilliance – each one met with an embattling cry from the fans – but there was no real urgency to the team’s play, and when there was, it usually led to error or petulance.
That was until man of the moment Mason Greenwood lifted Old Trafford to their collective feet with an act of pure individual brilliance. More on that to come. Other than that, it was a case of job done for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, and little more.
Starting XI: Romero (6); Dalot (7), Jones (5), Tuanzebe (6), Rojo (6); Fred (6), Matic (6); Gomes (7), Greenwood (8*), Chong (6); Rashford (6).
Only in the Europa League – Europe’s premier club competition – do you get to see Phil Jones defend
— Scott Saunders (@_scottsaunders) September 19, 2019
Subs: Mata (6), Lingard (6), Young (N/A).
STAR MAN – If there was a positive path to plough with this game, it would be the confirmation that highly-touted 17-year-old Greenwood will be a player to watch in the games to come this season.
After some initial toiling, the youngster’s effortful exploits finally paid off when he was able to find just enough time and space, and more importantly skill, to fashion a shot on target, which he calmly slotted between the splayed legs of Eric, poise and passion in perfect harmony.
Made up for Greenwood. What a player he’s going to be. Well deserved.
— Liam Canning (@LiamPaulCanning) September 19, 2019
A first goal for the club, then. But not the last, you can be assured of that.
United’s next test will be a trip to east London and a clash against Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham side, while the Kazakhstan outfit will be visiting Zhetysu who are, you guessed it, known as the West Ham of the Kazakhstan Premier League. Who knew?