Teenage sensation Mason Greenwood stole the headlines and the hearts’ of the home faithful by scoring his first competitive goal to sink group minnows FC Astana.
Manchester United dominated proceedings throughout the 90 minutes, but FC Astana remained defensively resolute to keep the hosts at bay for 73 minutes.
Marcus Rashford missed a catalogue of opportunities and Fred crashed a speculative effort from range against the crossbar during the first half. United maintained a high level of pressure at the beginning of the second half and came close on a handful of occasions through Marcos Rojo, Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Fred.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer responded from the bench with 23 minutes remaining by withdrawing Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong for Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard respectively. The Red Devils looked reinvigorated following the substitutions and they began to plug gaps in a previously impenetrable Astana defence.
United switched the ball from left to right and Fred fed a low pass into the feet of Greenwood. The 17-year-old turned Romanian international Dorin Rotariu inside out and tucked an unerring finish underneath veteran goalkeeper Nenad Eric and into the far bottom corner.
The hosts could’ve added another with Marcos Rojo launching a cannonball from range wide of the far post and Nenad Eric rescued his side once again to masterfully turn a thunderous volley from Jesse Lingard onto his near post.
Lack of Accuracy Leads to an Agonising Evening
FC Astana defended across the width of the penalty area and spent the majority of the first 45 minutes with all eleven players behind the ball. Manchester United pushed high in an attempt to flood the opposing half with attackers and Axel Tuanzebe frequently strolled towards the Astana penalty area by driving the ball forward and feeding the ball out to the flanks or into the feet of Angel Gomes.
Diogo Dalot and Marcos Rojo probed a dangerous threat down the channels with the former toying with FC Astana left-back Dmitri Shomko with his mesmerising dribbling runs. Marcus Rashford lacked the final product during the first half and squandered a handful of opportunities when the ball was delivered into him from Dalot and Rojo.
Angel Gomes was impressive – he was given the licence to play a free roaming role in the final third and he buzzed across the width of the attack to dictate play and pull FC Astana players out of position.
Tahith Chong and Gomes faded as the second half progressed and Manchester United failed to maintain a high tempo as Astana continued to masterfully reduce the space for them to exploit.
Greenwood to the Rescue
Solskjaer reacted from the bench by introducing Mata and Lingard for Gomes and Chong respectively. Astana had grown in confidence and surged into the opposing half to carve out a rare opportunity for Dorin Rotariu. Marin Tomasov, the most creative force for the Kazakhstan outfit, cut inside against Marcos Rojo and lofted an auspicious cross to the back post.
Diogo Dalot was caught unaware at the back post but Rotariu was unable to find the target and stabbed wide from an acute angle. Manchester United improved significantly following the substitutions from Solskjaer and Greenwood marked his first start of the season with his first ever competitive goal.
Astana began to tire and their positional discipline momentarily wavered as Fred rolled the ball into an unmarked Greenwood at the far post. The 17-year-old deceived Rotariu with sensational footwork and slotted a phenomenal finish into the bottom corner.
Rojo had been a continuous threat down the left side and he grew in confidence to send a pile driver from range whistling agonisingly wide. Jesse Lingard could’ve marked his cameo role with a goal too but Eric consolidated his tremendous display with a breath-taking save to flick his volley onto the post.
Manchester United are now unbeaten in their last 12 UEFA Europa League games (W9 D3) and avoided losing a third successive fixture at Old Trafford in European competition.
Thursday 3rd October 2019: AZ Alkmaar v Manchester United (17:55)
Thursday 3rd October 2019: FC Astana v Partizan Belgrade (15:50)
Manchester United (4-3-3): Romero (5), Dalot (6), Jones (5), Tuanzebe (6), Rojo (7), Fred (6), Matic (5), Gomes (6), Rashford (5), Greenwood (7) & Chong (4)
Subs: Mata (5), Lingard (5) & Young (4)
FC Astana (5-4-1): Eric (7), Rukavina (5), Postnikov (6), Tomasevic (6), Simunovic (5), Shomko (4), Tomasov (6), Mayewski (6), Sigurjonsson (5), Rotariu (5) & Murtazayev (3)
Subs: Firmin Ndombe Mubele (3), Yuriy Logvinenko (3), Rangelo Janga (4)