Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s injunction for Manchester United to “fill their boots” against Partizan Belgrade was met with a 3-0 triumph at Old Trafford on Thursday. A convincing performance was capped by goals from Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, as United guaranteed themselves safe passage into the Europa League’s knockout stages.
Solskjær pulled no punches with his team selection, with seven of the side that started the weekend’s Premier League defeat to Bournemouth named in the 11 here. It took little time for United’s quality to show, and Rashford should’ve done better when he mishit a low Aaron Wan-Bissaka cross unmarked in the penalty area inside seven minutes.
Moments later the United forward fluffed another gilt-edged opportunity, firing straight at goalkeeper Vladimir Stojković from point-blank range after a slick interchange from Martial and Juan Mata. After a quarter-of-an-hour, yet another chance fell Rashford’s way, but it was relatively difficult, and he volleyed Wan-Bissaka’s lofted cross clean over the top.
Fortunately, it did only prove a matter of time; a matter of 22 minutes, to be precise. Midway through the opening period United deservedly had the advantage, with young Greenwood — otherwise quiet on the night — deceiving Stojković to tuck the ball inside the near post on a Rashford assist.
It was two shortly past the half-hour, courtesy of some textbook Martial. The French forward’s masterful technique was on full display as he weaved through three Partizan defenders before delicately prodding home; the opportunity coming in no small part thanks to Greenwood’s tireless pressing from the front.
It might’ve been three before the interval, when Rashford sent Martial through one-on-one, but the Frenchman chipped over both the goalkeeper and the crossbar. Still, United were ahead and cruising when they left the pitch at halftime, with their forwards showing the kind of fluid attacking play so often missing so far this season. Solskjær had every reason to be pleased.
Things got even better within five minutes of the restart, as Rashford finally scored the goal he’d deserved. A brilliant crossfield pass by Mata was delicately cushioned into Rashford’s path by Ashley Young, and the United striker smashed the ball into the top corner to leave Stojković with no chance.
After the third, United lost some of their urgency, and the game gradually petered out to the sound of satisfied chants from the Stretford End. The final whistle sounded with Partizan having failed to register a single shot on target. Of course, this performance may well prove to be yet another false dawn for United, but let’s enjoy it, at least for the rest of the evening. Wins as proficient as this one have been few and far between.