In a surprising result, Manchester United and its spunky band of misfits and youth players completed a successful smash and grab at FK Partizan in the Serbian capital. The 1-0 win for the Red Devils marked the first away win for the club this season after Anthony Martial -- in his first start since August -- scored the club’s first away goal since August.
United were the aggressors in the first half as they walked onto the pitch sporting a similar look to their most recent league match against Liverpool. After 90 mostly successful minutes using a three in the back system against their hated rivals, Solskjær ran it back, albeit, with Phil Jones replacing Victor Lindelöf in the trio.
Harry Maguire, wearing the captain’s armband for the first time for United, was the stout anchor in the center of the backline while Rojo and Jones marauded up the pitch.
Relative veteran midfielder, Scott McTominay provided the early chances for the Reds. The first clear opportunity came in the 15th minute when Juan Mata delivered a perfect free kick from the right wing to the back post. The ball fell to McTominay’s head and the Scot got the ball down, but the chance missed the mark as it bounced wide of the left post. Several minutes later, McTominay would scuff an opportunity from the top of the box after a wonderful service from Jesse Lingard.
The Reds, again, looked to break the stalemate in the 37th minute after Aaron Wan-Bissaka made a courageous tackle at the top of the Partizan box. He quickly recovered and played a parallel ball to Lingard who pinged his attempt past the keeper and off the right post.
Finally, the breakthrough came in the 43rd minute. Brandon Williams -- in his second Europa League start -- flew down the left wing with the ball and forced his defender to chop his legs down inside the box. Without hesitation, the referee ran into the box pointing to the penalty marker. Martial stepped up to the spot, sent the keeper in the opposite direction, and easily passed the ball into the left side of the net.
The second half proved to be a blood-pressure raising affair as the home side grew more confident and took the match to United. Often, the Reds were left kicking the ball wildly out of their own box, only to be thrust right back into a defending scenario.
Solskjær opted for two off-brand early substitutions as he took his best defender, Wan-Bisssaka, off the field as well as Martial in favor of Marcus Rashford and Daniel James. However, the attack-minded substitutions did little to influence the match as Partizan continued to press the midfield who whiteknuckled it the entire rest of the half.
Partizan’s Seydouba Soumah nearly evened the scoreline in the 52nd minute after putting Maguire on skates at the top of the box. Soumah went right before cutting to his left and delivering a ball that required the attention of Sergio Romero.
Sadiq Umar, who was influential in Partizan’s created chances during the first half, drilled a curling volley away from Romero, but, to the relief of Manchester United fans, the ball went wide left of the post. Umar’s long-range attempt would be replicated by his teammates throughout the waning moments of the match, but United would continue to benefit from Partizan’s inability to finish.
The Reds will be relieved to earn its first win on the road this season as well as its first win inside of 90 minutes since August. Unlike many of the late summer and early fall matches that led up to tonight, the Reds too easily let matches slip away in favor of disappointing draws like this past Sunday’s match against Liverpool. However, it is less inspiring that United found itself so under siege to the fifth best side in the Serbian Professional League.
Ultimately, United will look to build on its two recent results that are at least encouraging since Solskjær made the switch to the three-man backline. United face Norwich City in the league next, and the Reds will need to remain sharp against the newly-promoted side after the Canaries already earned one upset victory against a Manchester side this season.