Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford sealed the success over CSKA Moscow to ensure a 40th successive game without defeat at their Old Trafford home – a club record last achieved between 1964 and 1966 by their legendary former boss’s famed side.
With a crucial Manchester derby to follow on Sunday, the triumph provided the perfect lift for Mourinho’s men.
The decisive goals, 67 seconds apart in the 64th and 66th minutes, completed an impressive comeback from the hosts after they had fallen behind in the 45th minute to a strange goal.
Vitinho’s strike went in after hitting Alan Dzagoev on the back with the midfielder offside, but played on by United defender Daley Blind who had slid behind the goal and was still deemed active.
CSKA needed to win by seven clear goals to stop the hosts going through, but that was never going to happen.
What this game did, though, was perhaps herald the rebirth of injury-plagued left-back Luke Shaw.
Three years since his much-vaunted arrival from Southampton, this was only his 50th appearance. With 48 minutes of previous action this season, Shaw was handed a first start since April. Under scrutiny, under pressure, this was a chance to prove his worth – and a point to arguably his harshest critic, Mourinho.
The United boss witnessed commitment and quality at both ends of the pitch.
Dashing down the left, Shaw met an Antonio Valencia cross with a volley that forced CSKA keeper Igor Akinfeev into the first part of a fine double save, spreading himself to block Lukaku’s follow up.
Shaw then made a great run in behind the defence but his low cross just eluded Rashford.
It formed part of a strong United start. After only three minutes, Lukaku showed good strength and skill to send Rashford clear, but his shot rolled against the inside of the post.
Rashford then tested Akinfeev with another low effort. The visitors were struggling but got a break just before half time with Dzagoev’s opener.
United restored parity when Paul Pogba floated over a perfect pass for Lukaku to finish with a stretching volley. A minute later Juan Mata lofted a pass for Rashford to finish with aplomb.
Romero: Deputising for the rested De Gea, but didn’t have a shot to save until he picked the ball out of the net. Denied Dzagoev near the end. 6
Lindelof: Very little to do, but an assured display from the Swede which will help his confidence. 7
Smalling: The defensive commander and marshalled his side well. Dangerous on set-pieces too. 7
Blind: Comfortable in a three-man Inadvertently played a crucial part in CSKA’s opener when off the pitch and playing Dzagoev onside. 6
Valencia: Driving runs from the United skipper down the right and equally combative at the back. 7
Herrera: A peripheral figure when he had the opportunity to press his claims for a start against City on Sunday. 5
Pogba: The dismissal at Arsenal may have contributed to a largely subdued performance, but still produced a peach of a pass to set up Lukaku for his volleyed strike. 6
Shaw: It was like the Shaw of old, driving down the left to support his attack and determined in defence. 8
Mata: Neat and tidy, but a player of his calibre needs to be more involved as he was in the second half. 7
Lukaku: Solid and offered good support to Rashford, his second goal in 13 games will have done his confidence the world of good. 7
Rashford: A well-taken goal, but wasteful with other chances when he could have had a hat-trick. 7
McTominay (for Herrera 66′): Offered stability in the midfield and composed display as United took control. 6
Tuanzebe (for Valencia 71′): Gave his captain a rest as he gained more first-team experience. 6
Martial (for Lukaku 73′): Another brought on to provide Lukaku with a breather before the derby. 6
In this addition of In Focus, we track the performance of Barcelona forward Paco Alcacer who was given a chance to shine by boss Ernesto Valverde on Tuesday night.
With qualification to the knockout phase of the competition already secured and second-placed Juventus, realistically, being unable to catch Blaugrana at the top of Group D – the hosts made several changes for the visit of Sporting Lisbon – a side who were still in with a shot of progressing.
As it was, Alcacer – who replaced the rested Lionel Messi and led the line alongside Luis Suarez and Nelson Semedo, played the full 90 minutes in a comfortable 2-0 win.
The 24-year-old scored a second-half header from a corner following Denis Suarez’s assist. Former Barca defender Jeremy Mathieu, on his return to Catalonia, then netted an own goal in the dying minutes.
Here, we look at Alcacer’s performance in-depth:
Goals – 1
Assists – 0
Shots – 3 (1 on target)
Dribbles – 0
Passes – 50
Key passes – 0
Pass Accuracy – 80%
Touches – 64
Aerials Won – 3
While he has very much been a bit-part player since signing for the Catalan giants from Valencia at the beginning of last season, with options short in attack, Alcacer is a handy player for Valverde to have up his sleeve.
The 24-year-old, who scored an important brace last month in the 2-1 home league success over Sevilla, clearly needs to play more matches and definitely took his opportunity.
Alcacer may not be the most talented or technical frontman but there’s no doubting his eye for goal and willingness to stay in the penalty area – a fox in the box if you like.
His reward came in the 59th minute when the ex-Getafe forward showed clever movement and energy to get on the end of Suarez’s set-piece – glancing a header into the back of the net.
It has to be said that Alcacer is more suited to playing centrally, rather than on the left, but he is a useful back-up for Barca in a campaign where they’ve been short of alternatives other than the obvious.
Yet manager Jose Mourinho continually backed his first-choice striker, appreciating the United No. 9’s work rate and contribution to the cause even as the goals dried up.
Mourinho’s assertion that the goals would come soon enough may be about to come true, as Lukaku scored his 13th of the season to help United earn a come-from-behind victory against CSKA Moscow that ensured the Red Devils topped their group.
Here’s an in-depth look at how the star striker performed on Tuesday.
Goals – 1
Assists – 0
Shots – 3
Shots on target – 2
Pass Accuracy – 82%
Key Passes – 2
Touches – 31
Dribbles – 0
Lukaku held up the ball well and, in the first half, created two or three decent chances for his team-mates that should have seen United race out to a comfortable lead, although he missed the one presentable chance he had of his own.
The Belgian went missing a bit in the second-half as United’s best attacking play seemed to bypass him. That, was until, Paul Pogba picked him out with a perfect pass, a chance that Lukaku gobbled up to equalise. Soon after, he set up United’s go-ahead goal with a flick-on from a long ball.
4th min, CHANCE: Lukaku did well to control Juan Mata‘s pass, then turned and set about creating panic in the CSKA defence. Spotting Marcus Rashford‘s run across him, the Belgian found his strike partner with a cleverly disguised through ball, only for Rashford’s subsequent shot to hit the post.
20th min, SHOT: The 24-year-old probably should have scored. Luke Shaw hit a crisp volley which CSKA keeper Igor Akinfeev did well to save, but Lukaku was on hand for the rebound. The ball just wouldn’t come down quickly enough, forcing Lukaku to attempt a scissor kick which he couldn’t connect with cleanly, allowing Akinfeev to save again.
64th min, GOAL: Pogba floated in a delightful box, spotting Lukaku’s run, and the Belgian obliged by finishing the move off, stretching out his leg to get his outside of the boot onto the ball and guide it into the net.
There were times when you could see that Lukaku’s confidence was low, and others when you saw exactly why Mourinho has been quick to praise him. He linked up United’s attacking play well, created chances for his team-mates, and, although he missed his first opportunity to score, when another came to him, he buried it.
CSKA proved a more stubborn side than expected, given the 4-1 win United had gotten in Moscow in the reverse fixture, but Lukaku made sure his side got the win.