Manchester United earned a thunderous 4-0 win over AZ Alkmaar at Old Trafford in the final match of the UEFA Europa League group stage on Thursday. Ashley Young, Mason Greenwood and Juan Mata all added their names to the scoresheet as the Reds finished atop Group L with 13 points.
Going into the match, a win for United would guarantee a first place finish in the group along with avoiding one of the relegated Champions League teams in the round of 32 as well as a second leg home fixture. However, there was still a chance for AZ Alkmaar to take the group if the Dutch side earned a win on the road.
With the match seemingly important but, also, not as important as the upcoming match on Sunday, Ole Gunnar Solskjær created a Frankenstein’s monster of a starting XI that paired promising but very young and raw talent with some of the very worst veterans still collecting a paycheck from Manchester United. The disjointed squad clearly had an effect on all parties as the lack of continuity between the starters even disrupted the abilities of stalwart squad players like Harry Maguire and Anthony Martial.
The first half was at best a forgettable affair and at worst a representation of all the things that led to United’s poor form in the fall. The guests were on the front foot for much of the first half and their willingness to press often left United passing horizontally right in front of Sergio Romero’s goal. Young had a particularly pucker-inducing play as he casually dribbled around his own box before losing possession to an approaching Alkmaar attacker. The play was emblematic of the squad’s entire approach to the match, and Alkmaar dominated possession against their opponents whose minds were clearly directed towards the weekend.
Fortunately for the United supporters, the Reds came out of the dressing room after the break more focused and looking to take their chances.
In the 51st minute, the Reds would find their go-ahead. Andreas Pereira flashed some skill at the left corner flag as he dribbled around his defender and dumped the ball off to Juan Mata who was running towards the end line. The Spaniard quickly passed the ball back to Pereira as the Brazilian ran towards the corner of the box. Then, Pereira found Nemanja Matić with a pass before Matić found Mata cutting towards the goal in the box. Mata played a pass in front of goal that found Young on the far side and the United captain buried his shot into the top of the net.
Not long after finding the go-ahead, Greenwood delivered the insurance strike in the 58th minute. Alkmaar had possession in their own half before James Garner jostled the ball away with an aggressive tackle. The ball found its way to Greenwood and the striker blasted a shot from the top of the box and into the back of the net.
Greenwood decided two goals wasn’t enough as the forward marauded into the penalty area with the ball. A rough challenge from the Alkmaar defender sent Greenwood to the carpet and the referee immediately pointed to the spot. Juan Mata -- COOL AS YOU LIKE -- placed a curling shot into the right side of the net and past the keeper who chose the correct side but could not make the save in the 62nd minute. In under 10 minutes, an undeserving Manchester United side found itself very much deserving a blow out win at Old Trafford.
Then, Greenwood decided one goal for himself wasn’t enough mere seconds after Mata finished from the penalty spot. The forward received a pass at the top of the box on the right from Mata. Greenwood was one-on-one with his defender and the 18-year-old embarrassed his defender before putting the ball on his right foot and blasting a shot to the near post and past the keeper in the 64th minute. United found itself up 4-0 in under 12 minutes to a side that had only conceded eight total goals domestically.
Satisfied with the scoreline, United would hold onto its lead while occasionally still searching for a half chance or two. Ultimately, the four goal shelling provided the confidence United needed to see the match out while clearly taking all the wind out of Alkmaar’s sails.
Now, as winners of the group, United will wait to find out its opponents in the Europa League Round of 32 with the draw scheduled for Monday, Dec. 16. In the meantime, the Reds return to Old Trafford on Sunday for the already alluded-to match against a possibly-resurgent Everton side.
Be sure to check out the latest episode of The Busby Babe podcast for a preview of the match against Everton as well as a recap of Solskjær’s triumphs against José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.