When Manchester United were drawn in a Champions League group against last season’s finalists and semi-finalists, it’s safe to say there were plenty who questioned our ability to make it to the next round.
PSG and RB Leipzig are currently top of the table in their respective leagues. Even after seeing our defence deal with the likes of Neymar and Mabppe last week, it’s safe to say we weren’t overly confident ahead of our tie against the team that is currently the best in Germany. In the seven games they’d played in all competitions this season, they had only conceded three goals, so we were going to be up against it.
After the embarrassing 6-1 defeat against Spurs, having gone down to 10 men with an hour left to play, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had insisted we would see a reaction from his team. You hear that all the time and with such tough fixtures ahead it was hard to see how he could turn it around. But then we beat Newcastle 4-1, PSG 2-1 and were the more frustrated with the 0-0 draw against Chelsea, with our opponents spending £200m in the summer and then parking the bus at Old Trafford. David de Gea could have fallen asleep for 90 minutes and they still wouldn’t have scored.
But then, on Wednesday night, Manchester United beat RB Leipzig 5-0. Mason Greenwood took his first shot in Champions League football and scored, with the most precise finish you could imagine. If he’s doing this at 18, it’s so exciting to think what he will be achieving with more games under his belt.
The rest of the first half saw us absorb lots of pressure from the German side and over the 90 minutes De Gea pulled off a couple of great stops. It’s encouraging to see the impact Dean Henderson’s presence has had on the Spaniard.
Going in 1-0 up at half-time was important but Leipzig had shown their intent. Our midfield and defence had done well to limit their opportunities but we needed to do more in the second half.
Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay came on with an hour played and the game changed. The Wythenshawe forward has been saving the world off the pitch, with 1000s of children getting fed over half-term thanks to him, and he has earned himself a place on the front pages as a result. On Wednesday, he booked his place on the back pages too, becoming the second player in United’s history, after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, to score a hattrick as a sub.
It could have been more too, had he asked for the ball when Anthony Martial won a penalty, but he smiled as he let the Frenchman take the spot kick. Martial scored his first goal of the season and five minutes later Rashford claimed his third.
I cannot even imagine how jealous I would be if Rashford played for another club. His tireless campaign to ensure that the poorest children in this country have food is so admirable. And then on the pitch he keeps banging them away. Last season he scored a goal every other game, with 22 in 44 appearances. He started that season with three goals in nine appearances. This season he’s racked up seven goals in the same amount of games.
People call Solskjaer a PE teacher. Since taking charge almost two years ago, he’s beaten Spurs away, Arsenal away, Chelsea away, PSG away, Chelsea at home, Chelsea away, Spurs at home, City away, and again, Chelsea away, City at home, PSG away and now RB Leipzig at home. That’s not a fluke.
We’ve still got some tough games on the horizon. It might not end well for Solskjaer. But these players are playing for him, we’re putting in proper performances against the best opposition, and we should all allow ourselves to celebrate and appreciate that. With Greenwood and Rashford on the scoresheet on Wednesday, we’ve seen 4,045 consecutive games with an academy graduate in the squad, a record that goes back to October 1937. This team is exciting and I love to watch them play. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, in person.
Bring on Arsenal!