Marcus Rashford is excited for the future thanks to talents like Mason Greenwood and the kind of togetherness lacking at Manchester United two years ago.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side toiled to victory in what many expected to be a cakewalk against Astana, with a moment of magic from 17-year-old Greenwood required to seal a 1-0 win from Thursday’s Europa League opener.
Victory could not mask some concerning aspects but Rashford was focusing on the positives after United’s victory.
“Not the best performance but it’s great to come off the pitch with a win,” the England international said. “There was a lot of good stuff.
“They were a tough team to break down, but I think it shows… if I look back to two years ago I don’t think the team had maybe the togetherness to come through a game like that.
“Everyone expects it’s going to be an easy game, but the opposition have come to win so it’s always a tough game.”
It was a striking comment from Rashford, whose positivity only increased when talking about Greenwood becoming United’s youngest-ever goalscorer in European competition.
The 21-year-old England international knows all about announcing yourself with a maiden senior goal in a Europa League match at Old Trafford and is excited by the teenager’s potential.
“I am very happy,” Rashford said. “For me, being a person who’s been in his shoes in the past, for him to score that goal I know how he feels.
“And even more importantly, that’s the goal that won us the game, so I think that’s the thing that everybody should be talking about.
“Mason has been doing well since he’s joined the first team and 100 per cent there’s more to come from him, so I’m sure he’s excited and everyone else is excited as well.”
Greenwood was the most impressive of the three teenagers in United’s starting line-up against Astana. Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes showed signs of promise, while the forward scored on his ninth first-team appearance.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a weight off the shoulders,” Rashford said of Greenwood’s first senior competitive goal.
“For kids coming through the academy, that doesn’t exist for them because they’ve learned to sort of deal with that (pressure) all the way through their careers.
“Since they’re nine years old, every time they play a game… for other academies Manchester United is the biggest game of their season, so they put everything into that game.
“They’re used to having pressure to win games, so it’s not a surprise to me when the young ones come on and they do well.
“Mason scored today. Angel did very well. Chongy in the first half was very good and in the second half found it a bit more difficult.
“But because of their work ethic, because of the way they work, no doubt you’ll see them all again.
“And they keep improving. Since they’ve come up with us, they’re always improving.”
Asked whether he was excited by their potential, Rashford said: “Yeah, 100 per cent.
“So, for me, people say ‘potential for the future’ but if they could see how the players are working – like I’ve seen how hard Mason works, I’ve seen how hard Chongy works, Angel (too) – the future could be very close.
“So all of us need to keep working hard and they’ll get to where they want to be.”
Rashford is hoping United can get to where they want to be as well, with the frontman echoing his manager’s desire to lift the Europa League.
“For Manchester United every competition is big,” he added.
“We want to win the trophy and we won’t be happy with anything less (than that).”
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Mason Greenwood opened his Manchester United account in style as the 17-year-old secured Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men an unconvincing win against Astana in their Europa League opener.
Back in the competition for the first time since lifting the trophy two years ago, the Reds’ gruelling road to Gdansk got off to a surprisingly uncomfortable start against the perennial Kazakhstan champions.
An embarrassing European result was looming large in front of an increasingly frustrated Old Trafford crowd, only for teenager Greenwood to produce a moment of magic and secure a 1-0 win.
Solskjaer will be relieved to have got Group L off to a winning start, although will surely be alarmed by the way his side’s performance dropped off after Fred hit the woodwork and Marcus Rashford saw early efforts denied.
Perhaps the disjointed display should not come as a surprise given teenagers Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Greenwood were all handed starting roles as United named their youngest European line-up since 2012.
The latter would eventually save the day – and show just why Solskjaer called him one of the best finishers he had seen – by confidently making space and smashing home in front of the Stretford End, becoming the first player born this millennium to score for United.
Few could have foreseen such a struggle given the way Solskjaer’s much-changed side started the match.
Fred rattled the woodwork 141 seconds into his first start in 148 days and Rashford soon went close with a deflected free-kick, with the forward then seeing a close-range shot stopped by Astana goalkeeper Nenad Eric.
The forward’s exquisite flick into the path of Greenwood saw the teenager go a whisker away with a fizzing strike and it looked a matter of when rather than if United would score.
After Phil Jones got back to deny Roman Murtazayev and atone for his own error, United kicked on and Astana skipper Eric did well to thwart Rashford again after he was put in by Marcos Rojo midway through the first half.
United’s intensity dropped off for the remainder of the opening period as they begun to run out of ideas, with Astana not good enough to punish the hosts’ shaky high line. Rashford was visibly frustrated when Eric denied his latest attempt.
Solskjaer’s men returned from the break strongly. Gomes, making his first start for the club, followed an excellent turn on the edge of the box with pass out to Rojo, whose low cross just evaded Greenwood and Chong.
A low Greenwood effort deflected just wide before Rashford and Fred had free-kick attempts as United huffed and puffed.
But United’s inability to turn their superior possession and shot count into a goal was giving Astana hope and Marin Tomasov’s cross nearly dropped for Dorin Rotariu to turn home at the far post.
The 230 travelling fans were beginning to believe as United toiled, only for their blushes to be saved by teenager Greenwood.
The 17-year-old showed great feet and an impressive eye for goal when wriggling free in the 73rd minute to send a low drive through Eric’s legs as Old Trafford went wild.
It was quite the moment for Greenwood and Rojo went close to adding to that effort with a fizzing strike, before substitute Jesse Lingard saw an attempt tipped onto the post with Diogo Dalot unable to capitalise on the rebound.
Astana pushed for a shock leveller but United held firm on a surprisingly tough night that will give Solskjaer plenty to think about.
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will unleash Mason Greenwood in Manchester United’s Europa League opener against Astana, with the 1999 treble hero saying the 17-year-old is already one of the best finishers he has ever seen.
After two years back at European football’s top table, the Old Trafford giants are preparing to kick off a gruelling Europa League campaign at home to the perennial Kazakh champions.
United lifted the trophy when they last played in the competition in 2016-17, when manager Jose Mourinho’s side bulldozed their way through to the final with an experienced squad.
But Solskjaer will change tack by trusting youth, with Greenwood’s starting role the most eye-catching news heading into the Group L encounter.
“He is still very young, Mason, but he’s maturing,” Manchester United manager Solskjaer said. “He’s developed so much in the last six months since I came in.
“I remember the kid who just wanted to play with mates in the under-18s. And now he’s knocking on a door, he’s ready to play these games.
“For me, he has been in the under-21s with England, he’s tasting it more and more. And his appetite for football must be growing.
“I just don’t want to put too much pressure on him, apart from, ‘go out there and enjoy yourself’.
"Many of the youngsters look up to Marcus [Rashford]," Ole adds. "He's a true professional who's trying to improve every day and that's what a Manchester United professional should be." #MUFC #UEL pic.twitter.com/LATUwTOAn4— Manchester United (@ManUtd) September 18, 2019
“Work hard, close down, because when the ball lands in your feet I know you’re going to score anyway. I know you’ll make the right finish. Keeper might make a fantastic save but he’s one of the best finishers I’ve seen.
“It’s just that enjoyment, express yourself, go out at Old Trafford because there’ll be 11 Astana players living the dream tomorrow.
“It must be one of the biggest games of their careers for some of these players, but I want it to be a memorable one for our players as well and Mason is one of them.”
Solskjaer has confirmed fellow academy graduate Axel Tuanzebe, 21, will be in the line-up against Astana, 28 months since last starting a match for United at Old Trafford.
A knock sees Daniel James join Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw on the sidelines, while Fred comes into midfield and back-up goalkeeper Sergio Romero gets the nod ahead of David De Gea.
The Spain goalkeeper extended his contract at Old Trafford until at least 2023 at the start of the week and United have acted quickly to tie Victor Lindelof down to a new and improved deal.
Lindelof was linked with Barcelona over the summer but has ended any such talk by committing his future to the Old Trafford club, signing a deal until 2024 with the option of a further year.
“I love playing football and my aim now is to help the team to win trophies and repay the fans for their unrivalled support,” the defender said.
“I know that everyone at the club shares this vision and will give everything to get Manchester United back to where it belongs.”
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