Teenager Mason Greenwood’s first senior goal ensured Manchester United made a winning start to their Europa League campaign against Astana at Old Trafford.
On a night the 17-year-old will never forget and with the visitors from Kazakhstan threatening to hold out for a draw, Greenwood produced a clever finish in front of the Stretford End to become United’s youngest scorer in Europe.
Earlier, Brazil midfielder Fred hit the bar from 25 yards before forcing a fine save from a free-kick, while England forward Marcus Rashford wasted a string of chances against the European minnows, who did not register a shot on target.
But frustration turned to celebration when Greenwood, who has been at United since the age of six, popped up with the winner.
Even after his goal, a much-changed United continued to waste chances.
Diogo Dalot blazed over from close range after Nenad Eric had kept out substitute Jesse Lingard’s thunderous attempt.
In the other game in the Group L, Partizan Belgrade drew 2-2 with AZ Alkmaar.
Greenwood takes his chance
It was a far from perfect return to the Europa League stage for United on their first appearance in the competition since goals by Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan defeated Ajax in the 2017 final in Stockholm.
United, of course, would rather be competing with Europe’s elite in the Champions League but the Europa League at least offers manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the chance to give some of his younger players experience of a European night under the Old Trafford lights.
Against the five-time Kazakhstan Premier League champions, United fielded their youngest side for a European game since December 2012.
Greenwood was one of six players aged 21 or under who started.
Having grown up in United’s academy, the Bradford-born forward had already given United fans a glimpse of his talent during pre-season when he scored against Leeds in Australia.
In the heat of a competitive European game, he showed tremendous maturity as he cut the ball back on to his right foot after holding off an opponent before dispatching a low shot through the keeper’s legs.
United fail to sparkle despite win
Greenwood’s goal was the highlight on an otherwise scrappy night for United, who were far from convincing against a team that had come through qualifying to make the group stage.
Rashford, one of two survivors from the side that started last weekend’s win over Leicester, wasted enough chances to have walked away with the match ball.
At the other end, Astana were worryingly able to get behind United’s defence on more than one occasion.
Axel Tuanzebe partnered Phil Jones in the centre of the backline and, with the game goalless, the visitors should have taken the lead when Marin Tomasov found space to float a cross to the back post which went unpunished.
Man of the Match – Mason Greenwood
‘We made it hard for ourselves’ – what they said
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: “Games like these, you want to make sure you win the game in the first 20 minutes and you can enjoy it.
“We made it hard for ourselves.
“You could see some of our lads needed games but it’s pleasing we got the three points.”
On Mason Greenwood scoring: “We always know that in and around the box he is one of the best finishers we have got. We wouldn’t throw them in if they weren’t ready.”
Teenage kicks – the stats
- United handed starts to three teenagers – Greenwood, Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes – their most in a Europa League/Champions League game since November 2009.
- United are unbeaten in their last 12 games in the Europa League, keeping eight clean sheets in this run.
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team have recorded back-to-back wins in all competitions for the first time since March 2019.
United head for London this weekend for a match against West Ham in the Premier League on Sunday (14:00 BST) while their next Europa League group game is in the Netherlands against AZ Alkmaar on 3 October (17:55 BST).
Jamie Vardy maintained his brilliant scoring streak as Leicester beat Brighton for their fifth successive Premier League win to strengthen their hold on second spot.
The Foxes remain eight points behind leaders Liverpool, but are now three clear of third-placed Chelsea and four points above Manchester City before those teams meet later on Saturday.
Vardy has been key to the Foxes’ form and he once again was the shining light on a dark, rainy day on the south coast.
The striker set up Ayoze Perez for the 64th-minute opener after swift counter-attack and then added the second from the spot, after his initial spot-kick, saved and headed in by James Maddison, had to be retaken for encroachment.
Foxes goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel failed to be tested once by the home side, although Wilfred Ndidi made a brilliant block to deny Martin Montoya from hitting the target.
Vardy too good for England to ignore?
Is it time for the England manager to drop Vardy a line?
The 32-year-old effectively called time on his international career after the World Cup in 2018, but Gareth Southgate said at the start of the month that he had been “monitoring” the striker’s progress this season.
There was a suggestion that Southgate wanted to focus on younger players in that position, but can he continue to leave out a player who has now scored nine goals in seven league games?
Today, when his supply line failed to service him, Vardy turned provider for his team-mates and himself.
The first goal was about his searing pace as he flew down the right before setting up Perez, who had moments earlier missed a similar chance.
He then got his goal from the spot after his initial effort had to be retaken, the penalty award coming after Demarai Gray had been fouled by Adam Webster.
Vardy’s effort was saved by Mat Ryan before the ball was headed in by James Maddison, but the England midfielder’s celebrations were cut short when VAR informed referee Mike Dean of encroachment, gifting Vardy a reprieve.
Seagulls home run ends after below-par display
Brighton came into this game having won their previous three at the Amex, but it never looked like they would make it four.
They were on the back foot in the opening period and needed Ryan to produce a brilliant save to prevent Vardy’s header going in, shortly after Perez’s header hit the woodwork.
Graham Potter’s side gave the home support a little more to cheer about in the second half, Montoya and Neal Maupay denied by the brilliant defending of Ndidi and Caglar Soyuncu.
The Seagulls remain comfortably in mid-table but it is a trip to Anfield next.
Man of the match – Jamie Vardy (Leicester)
‘We could have scored more’ – reaction
Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers speaking to Match of the Day: “We played very, very well considering we’ve come back from the international break. In the first 30 minutes we had control of the game and had chances to go in front.
“They started strongly in the second half, but the boys have got great resilience. You can be a good side by keeping the ball and creating chances from deep, but that’s what we have (good counter-attacking).
“It was to be expected that Brighton would come on strong. Brighton are a good side. They have good football ideas and pass the ball. With a better selection of passes we could have scored more though.”
Brighton boss Graham Potter speaking to Match of the Day: “I thought we started the second half really well. We looked like we might do something. With their goal they broke really well.
“We did a lot well but not enough. Leicester had opportunities and chances on the break.
“They started better than us. We hung in there and grew into the game. We were much better after the break.
“I saw their penalty – it didn’t look the strongest appeal. Sometimes they go for you and sometimes they don’t, but that’s not the reason we lost the game.”
Perez finding form – stats
- Leicester have equalled their Premier League-best run of five consecutive victories, with the Foxes winning these matches by an aggregate score of 17-1.
- Brighton lost their first home league match since August, ending a run of four without defeat at the Amex Stadium (W3 D1).
- Brighton failed to register a single shot on target in a Premier League home game for only the second time, also failing to do so against Liverpool in January.
- Leicester have conceded a league-low eight Premier League goals this season, with this their fourth consecutive clean sheet.
- Perez has scored four goals in his last four Premier League games for Leicester, having failed to find the net in his first eight for the Foxes.
The pair were involved in a carjacking attempt by an armed gang in north-west London a fortnight ago.
Arsenal say they are liaising with police and “providing the players and their families with ongoing support”.
“The welfare of our players and their families is always a top priority,” the club added.
“We have taken this decision following discussion with the players and their representatives.
“We look forward to welcoming the players back to the squad as soon as possible.”
Ozil and Kolasinac were left out of a friendly against Lyon following the attempted carjacking, but both featured in the final pre-season game against Barcelona on Sunday.
The latest incidents are being investigated by police.
After the failed carjacking attempt, Kolasinac posted a picture of himself and Ozil on social media and added: “Think we’re fine.”
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said it was “in contact with Arsenal and will investigate any offences reported appropriately”.