In many ways it was a typical Manchester United win under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and yet it was also completely atypical of United under the Norwegian. The 5-0 Champions League victory over RB Leipzig on Wednesday night showcased the Red Devils’ blistering front line at their brilliant best in a display that supporters would love to see more of.
United ran amok against last season’s semi-finalists at Old Trafford, with four goals in the final 16 minutes giving the scoreline a one-sided appearance as Marcus Rashford in particular racked up goals for fun late on. It was reminiscent of a lot of what we saw towards the end of last season, with the young, dynamic front three of Mason Greenwood, Rashford and Anthony Martial causing trouble in open space. When they’re given a glimmer of hope, they generally make the most of it.
Greenwood’s opening goal was a thing of beauty, a perfectly-timed run onto an incisive Paul Pogba through-ball and an arrow of a finish without even needing to look at the goal. There is no limit to what the 19-year-old could achieve if his talent is nurtured correctly.
And then, when he had been replaced by Rashford and Leipzig started to take more risks, United went for the kill with four more goals. Greenwood had done the hard work of breaking the deadlock, and then it was left for the rest to make the most of the greater space afforded to them.
If only United could do more of this. They’ve now beaten the losing finalists and semi-finalists of last season’s Champions League, but are struggling to make any sort of headway in the Premier League. So often, the failure to get the opening goal results in points being dropped.
United under Solskjaer are regularly hot against sides who attack them – think the three wins from four against Manchester City last term – and cold when it comes to breaking down stubborn defences. Defeats to Crystal Palace, Burnley, Newcastle, Bournemouth and Watford featured heavily in the column of regrets in United’s review of 2019-20, while Palace and Tottenham have already put them to the sword at Old Trafford this season.
The win on Wednesday shows that with a more positive attitude on the ball from the off and a display of the kind of killer instinct they clearly have, United can get ahead and stay ahead in games. With Greenwood, Rashford, Martial and Edinson Cavani all at Solskjaer’s service, they undoubtedly have the quality to be troubling the best and the worst of opponents.
So now is the time to replicate these swashbuckling big-game performances when they’re in amongst the muck and nettles. Because that is the difference between wannabes and true champions.