Mason Greenwood scored twice as Manchester United got four in 11 minutes to defeat AZ Alkmaar and secure a seeding for the Europa League knockout phase.
After a mundane first half, the game burst into life in the 53rd minute when Ashley Young drove home Juan Mata’s cross for his first goal since February.
Greenwood stole the headlines though, firing home from the edge of the box before producing a fine left-footed finish to end the scoring frenzy.
It was the first time the 18-year-old had scored two in a first-team game and took his overall tally for the season to six. He is now United’s leading scorer in Europe this season and only Marcus Rashford has scored more in all competitions.
In between the striker’s double, Mata converted a penalty for the Spain midfielder’s first goal of the season.
The victory was United’s biggest in Europe since 2016 when they beat another Dutch side, Feyenoord, by the same score and means they will avoid Benfica, Ajax and Inter Milan in Monday’s last-32 draw.
The victory was United’s third in a row in all competitions, coming after impressive triumphs against Tottenham and Manchester City.
It is only the third time United have done that since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer began his spell as United manager with eight successive wins after he replaced Jose Mourinho on 19 December last year.
The opening period lacked a competitive edge but Solskjaer will be delighted at the way it turned out, particularly as, from the team that started against Manchester City, only Harry Maguire and Martial kept their places.
This is crucial as, with a Carabao Cup quarter-final against Colchester in which they are overwhelming favourites, Solskjaer’s side were starting what could turn out to be 19 games in 77 days, which will end with the second leg of their Europa League last-32 tie.
The volume of fixtures is one of the reasons why it is still felt United need to make signings when the transfer window opens next month.
Greenwood shines, Chong does not
When they entertain Everton on Sunday, United will reach an astonishing 4,000 consecutive games where a player they have been responsible for developing has been part of their matchday squad.
It is a staggering statistic, one that dates back to October 1937 and a game against Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Two of their modern-day products are Tahith Chong and Greenwood, who shared the memorable experience of being introduced as late substitutes in the memorable Champions League victory at Paris St-Germain in March.
Greenwood has bounded along since then. Against Alkmaar he made his seventh start in 18 overall appearances that have now yielded six goals. He is an automatic member of Solskjaer’s matchday squad and in October signed a new contract that will keep him at Old Trafford until 2023.
By contrast, Chong has stalled. A Netherlands Under-21 player, He came on as a substitute here, his sixth appearance of the season – and only his second since 6 October. The midfielder’s contract runs out at the end of the season and an extension offer remains unsigned amid rumours of excessive demands that United officials do not feel justify his performances.
At 20, Chong is nearly two years older than Greenwood and the suspicion is growing that an impactful United career might prove beyond him. He tried hard enough on Thursday but the quality showed by Greenwood was missing.
Man of the match – Mason Greenwood (Manchester United)
‘Greenwood is different class as a finisher’ – what they said
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told BT Sport:
“I told them to be more us [at half-time], be more Man United. I know it’s difficult for players when you change but in the second half we just found a rhythm, made more passes forward, more runs forward, were pressing and got our goals.”
On Mason Greenwood:
“He’s different class as a finisher, if there’s anything around the box you expect him to get a shot off and on target, he’s good at creating space for himself and right foot, left foot it doesn’t matter. I’m very pleased with his performance.
“He’s a different type to Wazza [Wayne Rooney] and the good thing about Mason is he is just going to look forward to Sunday. It’s natural for him to score goals, it doesn’t matter what level it is.”
Dutch delight for United – the stats
- Manchester United have won seven of their nine previous home games against Dutch sides in all competitions, keeping clean sheets in the last three.
- Juan Mata has been directly involved in three goals (one goal, two assists) in a single European match for the first time since March 2013, scoring once and assisting twice for Chelsea against Steaua Bucharest.
- Ashley Young has scored his first European goal for Manchester United since February 2012 when netting against Ajax.
- Only Marcus Rashford (13) has scored more goals than Mason Greenwood (six) in all competitions for Manchester United this season.
- Greenwood is the youngest player to score a double in major European competition for Manchester United, aged 18 years and 72 days.
Manchester United return to action in the Premier League on Sunday (14:00 GMT) when they welcome Everton to Old Trafford.
Article courtesy of BBC Sport