Five things we learned as Manchester United beat AZ Alkmaar 4-0
Manchester United are through as group winners after a big win in the Europa League over AZ Alkmaar.
Goals from Ashley Young, Mason Greenwood (2) and Juan Mata (penalty) gave United a 4-0 victory.
Here are five things we learned from the final Group L game.
Greenwood made a statement
Mason Greenwood’s double was perfectly timed. His goals were superbly taken and showed he can score from anywhere on the pitch.
He took them ruthlessly, like an experienced striker, not an 18-year-old in his first full season in the first team.
Greenwood now has six goals for the season, the same as Anthony Martial.
He is also the club’s top scorer in the Europa League, with four goals in total in the competition.
After drawing blanks against Astana and Tottenham, this was an ideal reminder of how lethal he can be, heading into a busy run of fixtures.
The shackles came off
The first half was really bad, United barely had a shot at goal and the game was played at a snail’s pace.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer clearly gave his side a rocket at half-time and gave them encouragement to get forward.
Brandon Williams led the way with surging runs forward from left-back and on the other flank it was Ashley Young who was on hand to score United’s first.
Mason Greenwood then took over, with a masterful second half performance, creating chances, winning a penalty and scoring impressive goals.
United scored four goals in an 11 minute spell and it was a reminder of what can be done, when we play with attacking freedom. It was a demolition of a strong defensive team.
Greenwood’s first shot only came in the 57th minute. That showed United didn’t do enough up until that point, but it came together in the end.
A look back and forward
Elements of this performance reminded us of what Manchester United were, not what we are trying to be.
Nemanja Matic was slow and uninspired in midfield, and Juan Mata was one paced and struggled to complete passes in the first 45. He stepped it up in the second half.
Ashley Young at right-back was a selection we had hoped never to see again after last season. He didn’t do too badly in the end, but he’s not the future.
All three players are gradually being phased out of the first team, and this was another reminder that United’s squad is still trying to shake off players who are nearing their sell-by date.
The first half was a really tough watch and showed that this is a side very much in transition between the old and the new.
That was the other side of the coin, the way the older players and younger players meshed together as the game went on.
In a way the disjointed performance should have been expected from such a makeshift side.
By the second half, the older players were helping the youngsters out rather than letting them down, and this was what United wanted.
Lack of wide options still evident
Once you take Dan James and Marcus Rashford out of United’s wing positions, our options are desperately thin.
Andreas Pereira started on the left and he tried hard, with a bit of skill opening up the Alkmaar defence to lead to United’s opener.
Mason Greenwood was on the right and it is not his natural position despite his goals. He was too isolated there in the first half and only influenced the game when he came inside more.
If United are really going to improve, more depth is needed with specialist wingers.
It didn’t hurt us tonight, but it is important that work is done in the transfer market to find players who can stretch better teams.
Tahith Chong came on for another audition for a role on the wing, but he didn’t really do enough to stand out.
Garner is growing in confidence
It would be unfair to point the finger solely at Nemanja Matic for United’s insipid midfield display in the first half.
Youngster James Garner was hesitant, played too safely, and didn’t have an impact.
In the second half he got forward more, and won the ball for Mason Greenwood’s goal.
He was clearly growing in confidence as the game went on, demonstrating his range of passing with a cross field diagonal ball which he would not have dared try in the first half.
It was good to see him coming out of his shell and he will have learned a lot in this invaluable 90 minutes.
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