What a game. Perfectly encapsulating of United so far this year, there were strengths and struggles across the pitch. At the end of the day, 3 points is 3 points, and at least this game was easier on the eyes (and the blood pressure) than the win at the weekend.
OGS – Sending out an attacking lineup was crucial, both to bring a streaky side momentum, but also to get revenge for the embarrassment in Istanbul. Ole got the tactics right from the start, deciding to control the game by pushing forward, not just possessing.
His smart substitutions in the second half saved the crucial legs of Fernandes, who will be needed in the fixtures to come. With possibly one eye on fixtures ahead, the impetus dropped heavily after the break, and the “cruise control” mentality almost left the door open for the Turkish champions. 7.5.
DDG – World #1 was hardly tested in the first 70 minutes, but his ability to stay focused and in position for the odd shot on target proved crucial. Got caught cheating on the goal, certainly expecting the right footed shot. However, sometimes a ball is just destined for the net, wall and keeper be damned. 8.
AWB – Spider-Wan was unlucky to be called for a few fouls, but his telescopic legs once again proved to be too much for any attacker. His ability to halt a quick break singlehandedly cannot be overstated. The attacking game can still use some work, but he is showing confidence pushing forward, and providing an option for the midfield and front three on the overlap. 7.
Victor Lindelof – Has realized he needs to drop off half a step to account for his lack of pace. Drama free performance, with an exquisite ball over the top to send in Rashford for the penalty. Withdrawn to preserve his back. Serves as a great confidence boost coming off an up and down international break. 6.5.
Harry Maguire – Slabhead was fairly assured at the back, and was able to distribute into the midfield. His lack of pace and indecision could have cost United a goal in the first half when Lindelof and AWB were caught out. A more potent attack will surely punish such positioning. Cannot seem to get it right in the attacking box when wearing red, though Cavani could start to pull defender’s focus. 6.
Alex Telles – A nervy start with a few mishits developed into an encouraging performance. His pace and willingness to get forward offers something new to the attack. His crossing ability from open play should enable United attackers to get into the box and create chances more often. Provides a great alternative to Bruno on corners, who is far more dangerous around the box. His willingness to bomb forward successfully is a good omen for things to come. Great recovery late on when the game was balancing on a knife point allowed Fred to be fouled. 7.
Fred – Defensive acumen proved vital as the front 5 pushed forward. Though he may be a bit clumsy in the tackle on occasion, he is rarely out of position. Sloppy giveaways persist, and show why he is not always automatic in the 11. The temptation to be too cute in buildup occasionally prevent counterattacks before they can even start. 6.5.
Donny Van De Beek – Appears to be telepathically linked to Bruno. Quick, correct decision making enabled the attack to move forward effortlessly. His touches allowed for tiki-taka like movements through the midfield, enabling the speedsters to get the ball in space. Outstanding defensive work rate to cover for his teammates. His willingness to track back regardless of the scoreline lifts the entire team. Should proved Solskjaer a selection headache going forward. 8.
Bruno Fernandes – A captain-like display from the Portuguese Magnifico. The volley was reminiscent of Robben a decade ago. Poacher’s effort for the second, but you have to be there to score it. Pulled the puppet strings on absolutely everything in the first half. Handing over the penalty was not an act of cowardice, but leadership, as it enabled Rashford to get back among the goals, and reward him for a sharp run. Earned his rest, and the team’s sluggishness in the second half proves how vital he is. 8.5.
Marcus Rashford – Full of confidence from the off, looked to be having fun on the ball. His interplay with Bruno early led to possibly the most exciting opening 15 minutes in years. Not handcuffed by playing on the right, he moved around with freedom and easily inserted himself to put the game out of reach. 8.
Anthony Martial – A lone blemish on the United side. Started out fancy and free enough, but quickly got lost in the game. Not a true center forward, he operated better on the wing, where he was able to get on the ball. His moodiness was evident, and his lackluster defending is becoming worrisome. Saved by the bar, as it was his man who blew past him and ripped a quality shot that beat De Gea all ends up. Has all the skill, but expects too much to come easy, and has not shown the requisite heart to command Solskjaer’s loyalty. 6.
Edinson Cavani – El Matador has arrived. His smooth, deft touches in holdup play enabled the maestro’s to be on the ball early and in space. His confidence with where his teammates will be is starting to show through. Now the team must start to anticipate his movements, and those near post runs will result in goals, and not slightly overhit balls. The true no. 9 role will give this side something it has been missing, and can only mature nicely with time. The shots and goals will come. 8.5.
Axel Tuanzebe – Booked needlessly, and will miss a crucial game with PSG. He and Maguire didn’t really seem to be on the same page as a back two. 5.
Mason Greenwood – Rust was evident. Can’t blame the lad for having to get his touch back, but it certainly cost several opportunities. Desperate to make something happen for himself, he left teammates wanting until a moment of unselfishness for James’ goal late. 6.
Daniel James – Another United player that seems to do better for country than for club (looking at you, Paul). Always a worker, he never presented any real threat until Greenwood found him wide open on the counter. Still, you have to be there to score there. 5.
Brandon Williams – Great to see the lad have the opportunity. Solskjaer may not rate him highly at the moment, but he came in and provided comfortable back up for an overworked AWB. Valuable as a body off the bench, this was an encouraging performance, and should prove him as an option during a hectic spell of fixtures. 5.5.
Nemanja Matic – Came in to shore up during a rocky period, and did just that. Unwilling to risk anything forward, he played into the safe, if boring, options well enough to see the game out. 5.
With a critical fixture period ahead, United got a result the needed, and deserved. A relatively unchanged lineup should overwhelm a Southampton team punching above its weight class at the moment. Solskjaer must capitalize on the first half performance, and not carry the second 45 into the next match. 3 points at the weekend will send the reds flying into the rematch with PSG, with knockout assurance on the line.