Strong start to Champions League campaign delights Man United boss Jose Mourinho

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Manchester United romped to a convincing 4-1 victory at Moscow.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho believes he has now arrested the decline in the club’s Champions League away form.

The 4-1 win over CSKA Moscow in Russia gave his side a three-point advantage at the top of Group A after only two games and qualification for the knock-out stage should be a mere formality considering the poor quality of their opponents.

Basel, who lost 3-0 at Old Trafford earlier this month, beat Benfica 5-0 while Mourinho’s pre-match assessment that CSKA’s current team were the best he had faced in all his visits with Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Chelsea looked generous at best.

Having won the Europa League last season the Portuguese has United back on an upward curve in continental competition after their standing went into a downward spiral under Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor David Moyes and his replacement Louis van Gaal.

Mourinho may have been having a dig at the Dutchman in particular when he pointed out how things had turned under his guidance after four defeats and just one win in their last eight Champions League games away from Old Trafford.

“Before results away from home in the Champions League were not the best,” he said.

United raced away to a 3-0 lead before half-time.

United raced away to a 3-0 lead before half-time.

“After one season outside (the competition) we come back and we come back in strongly with a strong performance away.

“Did the players play well? Of course they did. I think all of them for an hour had a very good performance.

“It was a strong performance, a strong start with great personality and no-one is speaking about the players who couldn’t play. I am really happy with the performance.

“I came here and faced very good teams (in the past) but I think this was the strongest performance.

“With Real Madrid we came in the knockout phase and we came to play for a specific result.

“Three-nil at half-time is unexpected. We had the game in our hands and then it was just control so it was really good.”

On his return to Manchester Mourinho has to assess his options for Saturday’s 3pm kick-off at home to Crystal Palace having travelled to Moscow without seven senior players, including the likes of Paul Pogba, Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, Phil Jones and Antonio Valencia.

It is a chance to extend their unbeaten Premier League record to seven matches and take the outright lead at the top of the table as neighbours Manchester City face a much more difficult task against defending champions Chelsea.

“We play Saturday three o’clock against a fresh team and we have to play after this match,” he added.

“We have to keep our feet on the ground, stay humble and follow our direction because we are having a very good start to the season.”

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Anthony Martial proves his worth - Seven Deadly Stats as Manchester United beat CSKA Moscow

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An away trip to Russia can be a tricky proposition in the Champions League, although Manchester United generally have a good record against Russian opposition.

Wednesday night’s fixture against CSKA had the potential to be a banana skin nonetheless, but United navigated the dangers with aplomb, beating the Russian side 4-1.

Anthony Martial put in one of his best displays since Jose Mourinho became manager last year, getting on the scoresheet and assisting Romelu Lukaku twice. He also took the shot from which Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored United’s fourth, on the rebound.

CSKA scored a consolation late in the game, but it barely registered as United maintained their three-point lead atop Group A.

Here are seven deadly stats from the game…

LUKAKU LOVES PLAYING IN EUROPE

He may never have played in the Champions League before this season, but Manchester United’s new striker had an enviable record in European competition even before joining the Red Devils.

Lukaku scored eight times in nine total Europa League appearances for Everton, but all of those goals came in his last five games in Europe with the Toffees. He scored in each of those five games, scored on his European debut for United in the UEFA Super Cup, and followed that up with a goal in his Champions League debut on Matchday 1, against Basel.

That’s quite a run of form on the continent, and Lukaku kept the run going on Wednesday.

50 MILLION DOWN THE DRAIN…

It’s become one of United fans’ favourite chants. The surprise big-money move (by those days’ standards) for Anthony Martial in 2014 was ridiculed by the English press, who dubbed the Frenchman a waste of money.

Since then, of course, while Martial has never completely silenced the doubters, he’s shown enough talent to justify the outlay, leading to the Old Trafford faithful’s now famous chant, “50 million down the drain, Tony Martial scores again.”

And score again he did on Wednesday, and although this may surprise some, Martial actually has a solid record for United since joining the club.

MARTIAL IN TOP FORM

It’s not just in front of goal that Martial has shown his worth for United. For a player who isn’t an out-and-out striker, even if he can play through the middle, creating goals is as important as scoring them, and the Frenchman is currently in a rich vein of form on both counts.

The spot on the wing that he’s found himself in under Mourinho suits him, and this season he’s shown how devastating he can be when he’s on form. One goal and two assists on Wednesday added to an impressive tally.

He’s got five goals and three assists across all competitions already this season, after finishing last year with seven goals and six assists.

SO IS LUKAKU

Even Mourinho didn’t expect Lukaku to make this good a start to his United career. It’s not even the end of September, and the Belgian is already on 10 goals for the season after scoring a brace in Moscow.

If it weren’t for a missed penalty against Leicester City last month, Lukaku would have scored in every single one of his competitive United appearances so far.

As it is, he’s become the first Manchester United player to score in each of his first two Champions League appearances for the club, and while he’s been guilty of missing some gilt-edged opportunities, it’s largely down to him that United are top of their group in the Champions League and level on points at the top of the Premier League table.

FREE-FLOWING MAN UNITED ARE BACK

Lukaku was brought to United to remedy one glaring issue: a lack of goals. There’s no doubting that his arrival has led to United’s prolific form in front of goal.

Of course, it’s not just him, with Martial, Marcus Rashford, and Paul Pogba before his injury all showing improved scoring form, and it’s led to a United that are alternatively ruthless and free-flowing.

Only once have United failed to score two goals or more this season, and that came in last Saturday’s battling win over Southampton. Otherwise, it’s become common for United to hit the four-goal mark, something they’ve now achieved in five of their nine games.

What was impressive on Wednesday is how they were ruthless from the start. While United have tended to wear teams down before finishing off with a flourish so far this season, first-half goals have been at somewhat of a premium. Not against CSKA, as the Russian side allowed United to have their best goal-scoring first half in seven years.

CSKA HIT A NEW LOW

Speaking of United hitting that four-goal mark – while they may have made a habit of it this season, Wednesday night’s feat was actually historic.

CSKA Moscow have struggled against Europe’s leading lights in recent years, but even by their standards, this was shambolic – and this is after Mourinho said this was the strongest CSKA side he’d faced during his managerial career.

United put paid to that notion, with Mkhitaryan’s goal providing a new low for the Russian club.

UNITED’S MIDFIELD DOMINANCE GOES UNHERALDED

Lukaku and Martial took all the plaudits from this win, and rightly so, but they weren’t the only architects of this win.

United actually came into this game with a few concerns over their midfield. Pogba, Michael Carrick, and Marouane Fellaini were all unavailable, which is probably what precipitated Mourinho’s decision to opt for a 3-4-3 formation. It gave him three centre-backs to cover for the fact that he had only two of his regular midfielders to call upon.

It’s a good thing those two midfielders were Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic. Herrera had a point to prove after seeing Matic usurp him in Mourinho’s first-choice starting lineup, but here the two played alongside each other and controlled the game.

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Player ratings and round-up as Michy Batshuayi snatches 2-1 win for Chelsea over Atletico Madrid

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Alvaro Morata and Michy Batshuayi proved there is life after Diego Costa as Chelsea fought back to win 2-1 at Atletico Madrid.

Costa, whose return to Atletico was completed on Tuesday, watched on as Chelsea responded from David Luiz’s needless concession of a penalty scored by Antoine Griezmann.

Former Real Madrid striker Morata headed in Eden Hazard’s cross for his seventh goal in eight games for Chelsea before Batshuayi struck with the final kick of the game to give the Blues two wins from two Champions League Group C games.

STAR MAN

Eden Hazard. The Belgium playmaker, starting for the second time this season after his broken ankle, dazzled at times. Honourable mentions for Morata, midfield duo N’Golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesar Azpilicueta.

Eden Hazard

Eden Hazard

MOMENT OF THE MATCH

It had looked like being Luiz’s concession of the penalty until Batshuayi, whose goal at West Brom in May delivered the Premier League title, tucked in Marcos Alonso’s cross.

DATA POINT

It was the first time Atletico had lost at home to English opposition in 12 matches after six wins and five draws.

RATINGS

Atletico Madrid

Jan Oblak: 7
Juanfran: 6
Filipe Luis: 6
Lucas Hernandez: 6
Diego Godin: 6
Thomas Partey: 7
Koke: 7
Saul Niguez: 7
Antoine Griezmann: 6
Yannick Carrasco: 6
Angel Correa: 6

Substitutes

Fernando Torres (for Carrasco, 69 minutes): 6
Nicolas Gaitan (for Correa, 70): 6
Jose Maria Gimenez (for Partey, 77): 6

Chelsea

Thibaut Courtois: 6
Cesar Azpilicueta: 8
David Luiz: 5
Gary Cahill: 7
Victor Moses: 6
Tiemoue Bakayoko: 8
N’Golo Kante: 8
Cesc Fabregas: 6
Alvaro Morata: 8
Eden Hazard: 8
Marcos Alonso: 7

Substitutes

Michy Batshuayi (for Morata, 83): 7
Willian (for Hazard, 83): 6
Andreas Christensen (for Fabregas, 86): 5

WHO’S UP NEXT?

Chelsea v Manchester City (Premier League, September 30)
Leganes v Atletico Madrid (LaLiga, September 30)

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