Manchester United made a victorious start to their Europa League campaign, edging past FC Astana 1-0 at Old Trafford to take all three points from the Group L encounter.
Mason Greenwood scored the match-winning goal with fifteen minutes to go, slotting home from a tight angle to finally break the deadlock on the night.
It might not have been pretty, but the Red Devils were able to hold on and pick up a second straight win in all competitions.
Story of the match
United almost took the lead in the opening minutes of the contest. Fred found space on the edge of the area and unleashed a shot from distance that dipped and swerved.
Unfortunately, it ended up rattling the crossbar before bouncing out of play.
Marcus Rashford really should’ve opened the scoring on the night soon after. A corner wasn’t cleared properly by Astana, and the ball eventually fell to Rashford a few yards out from goal. He couldn’t convert, though, hitting a shot right at the keeper.
The Englishman could've had a brace within 20 minutes, but was left down by more poor finishing.
A deflected cross found its way to him in the penalty area. Rashford made a clean connection on the volley, but it flew right at the keeper again.
The Red Devils came out flying to start the second half, coming incredibly close to scoring in the opening minutes.
Marcos Rojo got free down the left wing before drilling a pass across goal, but no one was there at the back post for an easy tap in.
The away side wouldn’t just sit back and absorb pressure, as Astana carved out a few chances to grab a goal of their own. The clearest cut one came when a cross flew all the way to the far post to Dorin Rotariu in some space, but his first-time shot went right into the side netting.
United would finally take the lead in the 75th minute, with Mason Greenwood getting his first goal for the club at the senior level. It came in some style, as the 17-year-old got the ball out wide before dancing past his defender, eventually rifling a shot through the legs of the Astana goalkeeper.
It had been coming for United, who finally gave the Old Trafford faithful something to celebrate on the night.
Their advantage was almost doubled five minutes later but were denied by the frame of the goal once again. Substitute Jesse Lingard went for a curler from outside the box, but the Astana goalkeeper was able to push the ball off the post.
The rebound fell to Diogo Dalot, but he was off-balanced and could only smash his shot miles over the bar.
United failed to grab a second goal but still managed to secure a clean sheet and pick up all three points.
Youth get their chance
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer kept up the promises he made during the week, starting the main core of United’s most recent academy graduates against Astana.
Mason Greenwood was certainly the most impressive, grabbing his goal with 15 minutes to go. Playing in a more unnatural wide position, the Englishman would tend to float in centrally.
He came close on a few occasions in the opening half but curled his shots just wide of the target. He wouldn’t make the same mistake on the goal, putting it through the legs of the Astana keeper.
Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes lasted up to the 60th-minute mark before being subbed out for Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard. Neither was able to create much on the night, but they did show some glimpses of their quality on the ball.
Axel Tuanzebe started at centre back and had little to do. However, when he was called upon, Tuanzebe was quick to react. He knew when to step up to intercept the ball, and was dominant in the air.
It was the first time most United fans got to see these lads play all together, but it certainly won’t be the last.
Those youngsters weren’t the only ones getting a big chance in the team, as Fred was also given his first start of the campaign. Playing alongside Nemanja Matic in the middle of the park, the Brazilian was tasked with helping United keep the ball up the field.
He was able to do just that, putting in a really strong performance in the process.
Fred was quite unlucky to not grab a goal in the first few minutes, as his rocket from distance smashed off the crossbar. He wouldn’t let that moment keep him down, as the Brazilian was nice and tidy in the midfield throughout.
Fred would also go on to assist the match-winning goal, finding Greenwood in space down the wing, allowing him to do the rest with it.
He’s far from a player worth the massive transfer fee United paid for him last summer, but that doesn’t mean Fred won’t have a role in the team this season.
He’s better than the other midfield options at Old Trafford for sure and could bring some needed balance alongside Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay.
Man of the match: Mason Greenwood
Most of the focus was on Greenwood going into the contest, and his showing on the night proved just why he’s one to watch out for. Still only 17 years of age, he never looked out of place against grown men playing in a European competition.
Greenwood made sure to cap off his performance with a brilliantly taken goal, driving right at the Astana defence before beating the goalkeeper with a shot from a tight angle.
Fans have been clamouring to see more of him, and after games like this, Solskjaer will have no other choice than to play Greenwood more often.