Back-to-back wins in their return to the Champions League, Manchester United are striding forth in Europe. Having dispossessed of Paris Saint-Germain in Paris last week, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team have now demolished RB Leipzig, beaten semi-finalists last season, to continue their perfect start.
Perhaps this 5-0 scoreline was a little harsh on United’s German opposition - they were only a goal down in the 73rd minute - but as manager Julian Nagelsmann later admitted, his side “forgot how to defend” and shipped a further four to give the home side a comprehensive victory.
Embarrassment of riches off the bench
United pulled away from their visitors in the final quarter when Solskjaer sent on Marcus Rashford. At that stage, United were in control but not miles ahead of Leipzig. Bruno Fernandes also came off the bench and the pair were imperious just as Nagelsmann’s men were beginning to tire.
Rashford scored an 18-minute hat-trick, which was the first hat-trick scored by a United substitute since Solskjaer himself ripped through Nottingham Forest’s defence four times in 10 minutes in February 1999, and that season ended rather well. Here Rashford’s cameo was sublime. His right peg like a hammer, swiping accurate shots at goal, scoring with his three attempts on target.
Fernandes helped his fellow substitute to beat the offside trap for his first by releasing him early. Then Rashford showed his predatory instincts when he beat Dayot Upamecano to a loose ball which brought about his second. The England forward even let out a giggle when he completed his hat-trick in stoppage-time via a set-up by Anthony Martial. Rashford’s propeller of a right leg scores goals and gives United lift.
New system laid the groundwork
That said, before Rashford came on the home side were already playing well. Solskjaer wanted to point out post-match that Rashford could only do what he did because of the groundwork that the others laid in the first half.
A different system, a 4-3-1-2 with Donny van de Beek given his first start in the competition at the tip of a midfield diamond with a split forward duo ahead of him, signified the third different system that Solskjaer has deployed recently.
The set-up worked and prevented Leipzig from gaining a head of steam. Paul Pogba found the space to express himself, Nemanja Matic guarded the defence and Fred scampered alongside him to good effect. Solskjaer’s faith in Harry Maguire was rewarded with a commanding display by his captain, likewise, David De Gea, who saved well from Ibrahima Konate’s header.
Also, Solskjaer’s backing of Mason Greenwood brought about United’s opening goal. “So efficient,” the United manager later eulogised when thinking back to the 19-year-old’s strike past Peter Gulasci in the 21st minute. It really is a rare blend of such power and precision that Greenwood possesses in his striking - he takes his chances perfectly. United do have some fantastic goalscorers in their ranks and don’t Leipzig know it.
Upamecano steps forward for Leipzig
The visitors were still in the game until Rashford arrived, having initially set-up with a back-five to contain United but then reverting to their more customary four-man defence.
There did seem to be a reticence by Leipzig to attack whole-heartedly. Both teams prefer to counter but Leipzig found themselves with a lot of the ball early on as United allowed them possession. But the tackling of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and the saves of De Gea prevented any attacking threat from becoming a scoreline issue for United.
Upamecano, the Leipzig centre back, is hot property, with United amongst his suitors. He was assertive in defence, deft and audacious with the ball at his feet, and not afraid to step into midfield and play forward.
The Frenchman even at one stage marauded 30 yards up-field. He couldn’t prevent his side’s late collapse and maybe rued his attackers not going for it more in the first half when United sat back and absorbed the Leipzig pressure. At that stage, the game was far closer than after Rashford had had his say.