Teenager Mason Greenwood’s first senior goal ensured Manchester United made a winning start to their Europa League campaign against Astana at Old Trafford.
On a night the 17-year-old will never forget and with the visitors from Kazakhstan threatening to hold out for a draw, Greenwood produced a clever finish in front of the Stretford End to become United’s youngest scorer in Europe.
Earlier, Brazil midfielder Fred hit the bar from 25 yards before forcing a fine save from a free-kick, while England forward Marcus Rashford wasted a string of chances against the European minnows, who did not register a shot on target.
But frustration turned to celebration when Greenwood, who has been at United since the age of six, popped up with the winner.
Even after his goal, a much-changed United continued to waste chances.
Diogo Dalot blazed over from close range after Nenad Eric had kept out substitute Jesse Lingard’s thunderous attempt.
In the other game in the Group L, Partizan Belgrade drew 2-2 with AZ Alkmaar.
Greenwood takes his chance
It was a far from perfect return to the Europa League stage for United on their first appearance in the competition since goals by Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan defeated Ajax in the 2017 final in Stockholm.
United, of course, would rather be competing with Europe’s elite in the Champions League but the Europa League at least offers manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the chance to give some of his younger players experience of a European night under the Old Trafford lights.
Against the five-time Kazakhstan Premier League champions, United fielded their youngest side for a European game since December 2012.
Greenwood was one of six players aged 21 or under who started.
Having grown up in United’s academy, the Bradford-born forward had already given United fans a glimpse of his talent during pre-season when he scored against Leeds in Australia.
In the heat of a competitive European game, he showed tremendous maturity as he cut the ball back on to his right foot after holding off an opponent before dispatching a low shot through the keeper’s legs.
United fail to sparkle despite win
Greenwood’s goal was the highlight on an otherwise scrappy night for United, who were far from convincing against a team that had come through qualifying to make the group stage.
Rashford, one of two survivors from the side that started last weekend’s win over Leicester, wasted enough chances to have walked away with the match ball.
At the other end, Astana were worryingly able to get behind United’s defence on more than one occasion.
Axel Tuanzebe partnered Phil Jones in the centre of the backline and, with the game goalless, the visitors should have taken the lead when Marin Tomasov found space to float a cross to the back post which went unpunished.
Man of the Match – Mason Greenwood
‘We made it hard for ourselves’ – what they said
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: “Games like these, you want to make sure you win the game in the first 20 minutes and you can enjoy it.
“We made it hard for ourselves.
“You could see some of our lads needed games but it’s pleasing we got the three points.”
On Mason Greenwood scoring: “We always know that in and around the box he is one of the best finishers we have got. We wouldn’t throw them in if they weren’t ready.”
Teenage kicks – the stats
- United handed starts to three teenagers – Greenwood, Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes – their most in a Europa League/Champions League game since November 2009.
- United are unbeaten in their last 12 games in the Europa League, keeping eight clean sheets in this run.
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team have recorded back-to-back wins in all competitions for the first time since March 2019.
United head for London this weekend for a match against West Ham in the Premier League on Sunday (14:00 BST) while their next Europa League group game is in the Netherlands against AZ Alkmaar on 3 October (17:55 BST).