Thanks to the lack of goals in 2016, between Louis van Gaal’s defensive style of football and Jose Mourinho’s team struggling to finish the huge number of chances created, it’s much easier than it should be for me to draw up a shortlist of the best Manchester United goals over the past year.
In all honesty, it’s fairly slim pickings. However, what people judge as a great goal varies. There are plenty of people out there who will watch Spain or Barcelona pass the ball 80 times, with every player getting a touch on the ball, before scoring a tap in, and hail the genius of it. Sorry, I’m clearly less cultured than that. My favourite goals are the ones when a player absolutely leathers it. If they smash it in on the volley, even better. Essentially, think of Paul Scholes’ greatest goals, and those are my favourite.
Still, I think good goals can become great, depending on the occasion and the opposition, so those goals get a mention here too. So, here’s a run down of my favourite goals scored by United players in 2016.
In February 2016, Jesse Lingard scored a very good goal against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. He took one touch with his back to goal, before spinning around and firing in to the top corner of Thibaut Courtois’ goal.
Lingard’s BFF, Paul Pogba, scored a blinder against Fenerbahce in the Europa League. The game was more or less won but that doesn’t take away from the technique required to so accurately and powerfully get the ball in to the back of the net.
Marcus Rashford scored a couple of great goals in 2016. The first came at the Etihad, where his quick feet left Demichelis on his arse, before calmly slotting past England number one Joe Hart. To have so much composure at his age, at that stage in his career, on that occasion, was brilliant.
A couple of months later, Rashford scored against West Ham in the FA Cup, to help book our place in the semi-final. This was probably the best example of the youngster’s belief in his own ability. In a season famed for United’s slow and sideways passing, Rashford sprinted straight in to the heart of the West Ham defence, before curling the ball in to the top corner.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan crept in just before the turn of the year with one of the best goals Old Trafford has seen for years. In terms of matching the reaction of the crowd, you’d have to go back five years to Wayne Rooney’s overhead kick against City. It was a goal you couldn’t believe you had just seen and couldn’t wait until Match of the Day to see it again, to try and work out how he did it.
The best goals of the season were both scored on the same pitch a few weeks apart. The first was scored by Anthony Martial, our top scorer of last season, in the FA Cup semi-final against Everton. United had gone a goal ahead thanks to Marouane Fellaini but the second half weighed in Everton’s favour. They had a penalty, which was saved, and they later equalised. If either team looked like scoring and stopping the game from going to extra-time and penalties, it was Everton.
In the 93rd minute, Martial played a one-two with Ander Herrera, before bursting in to the box and calmly placing the ball in to the back of the net. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in plenty of crowds that have lost their minds in reaction to a United goal, but this occasion was one of the very best. In years gone by, maybe it wouldn’t have felt as great as it did, but on the backdrop of what had been an awful few years, it was fantastic.
After leaving Wembley, the fans bounced their way to the coaches, singing the Martial chant on repeat, knowing we would be back soon.
Manchester United best goal of 2016: Lingard vs Crystal Palace
For me, this goal had it all. I don’t think there’s anything that could have improved it. Despite dominating possession and chances, United found themselves 1-0 down in the 78th minute, after a goal from Jason Puncheon. It took just three minutes for Juan Mata to level the score and momentum was with us.
The game went to extra-time though and in the seconds before half-time, Chris Smalling was shown a red card for rugby tackling Bolasie. With 15 minutes left to play, a man down, it wasn’t looking good.
Antonio Valencia got a cross in but it was cleared to Lingard, who was standing just inside the area. Without having the opportunity to think, he swung his right boot at it, catching the ball perfectly, and sending it like a rocket in to the top corner. There’s not a goalkeeper in the world who would come close to saving it.
Occasion? Huge. It won United our first FA Cup for 12 years. Technique? Fantastic. Leathered the ball on the volley. To then throw in that Lingard is a lifelong United fan, who has been wearing our shirt since he was a toddler and dreaming of scoring a goal like this for us since he started kicking a ball around in our academy when he was seven, perfect. Our best goal of 2016.
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