It’s been a while since they’ve held the spotlight of Europe’s brightest stage, but Manchester United are making up for lost time in the Champions League, Jose Mourinho’s side destructive as they swept aside CSKA Moscow 4-0.
The hosts were expected to provide a stern test for the visitors but United were on their way after just four minutes with Romelu Lukaku rising high to nod in Anthony Martial’s cross.
The Frenchman then rolled in a penalty after Henrikh Mkhitaryan was felled in the area, and the game was as good as over after 26 minutes when Martial again set up Lukaku to make it 3-0.
CSKA rarely threatened and Martial was again involved in the fourth, forcing a save from Igor Akinfeev who parried his shot into the path of Mkhitaryan who swept home.
Here, we examine the players who warmed the hearts on a chilly night in the Russian capital and those who froze on the big stage.
It was feared the Frenchman might not have had a future at Old Trafford in the summer after a underwhelming 2016/17 season – but he has made the doubters eat their words with a superb start to the season.
And this was the former Monaco man’s finest performance to date – providing two assists for Romelu Lukaku, scoring a penalty and having a big role to play in United’s fourth and final goal too.
His talent is obvious, yet in Jose Mourinho’s first season at the helm of United, he was rarely able to coax the best out of the flamboyant Frenchman, who visibly regressed after a stunning debut campaign in England.
Not usually one to mollycoddle his players, you feared whether Mourinho’s patience would quickly wear thin with Martial, who often visibly cuts a frustrated figure when things don’t go his way.
However, when things are going his way he’s a hard man to stop. Add in a change of attitude and a work ethic Mourinho is famed for instilling in his troops, and it seems Martial’s star is on the rise once more.
Another game, another fruitful 90 minutes in front of goal for the Belgian striker. Despite his goalscoring exploits for Everton, the big man arrived in Manchester this summer with niggling doubts about his ability to do it on the big stage.
He’d talked about wanting to play in the Champions League and you can’t really ask for much more from Lukaku, whose record on Europe’s big stage reads: two games, three goals.
In total he’s now bagged 10 goals in nine games for United, proving his pure goalscoring talent, while also silencing a few critics perhaps too. His technique still needs some work and he gave the ball away cheaply on a few occasions against CSKA, but there’s no doubting his ability to sniff out a chance.
He dominated his marker to nod United ahead and was in the right place at the right time to make the points safe with his second and United’s third after just 26 minutes. He would have had a deserved hat-trick in the second-half bar a superb stop from Igor Akinfeev and he was also brilliant and holding the ball up and bring team-mates into play. The future for the Reds is rosy with this man leading the line.
The centre-back turned 35 this summer and he looked every one of his years in a lethargic, lackluster display. The hosts were expected to provide a chilly welcome for the Red Devils in Russia but proved to be generous hosts, with the veteran most culpable.
He struggled to cope with the brawn of Lukaku all night, while Martial ran him ragged when cutting inside, as did the quick and zippy nature of United’s incisive passing.
The low point for Berezutski was United’s killer third goal. There appeared little danger when Martial floated in a harmless looking cross into the penalty area. But rather than providing an experienced, assured presence, Berezutski lazily swung a right leg at the ball and missed, allowing it to go through to Lukaku who stabbed in for an easy finish.
Once described as the saviour of Russian football, the attacking midfielder had a night to forget as he was left out in the cold by an organised and largely untroubled United defence.
The 27-year-old was dispossessed twice and had two unskilled touches as he finished with a lowly 73.5 per cent pass success rating, which was the third worst out of all players on the pitch – including goalkeeper Akinfeev (60.9) and substitute Georgi Milanov (50) who replaced Dzagoev with 18 minutes to go.
Rather than acting as the fulcrum for his side and instigating CSKA’s attacks, Dzagoev was largely a bystander as United ran riot. He offered precious little through his 47 touches of the ball – the seventh most for CSKA – and will not want to see his barely readable heatmap.