Ratings and Reaction : Manchester United 5-0 Club Brugge

Friday, February 28th, 2020 9:44am

By Wayne Barton @WayneSBarton

It was fitting that in a week of glory for British heavyweight boxing, a man named Bruno delivered the knockout blow for Manchester United in the Europa League Round of 32.

This was more undercard than top of the bill, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side put in a top performance to inspire some encouragement that headline days could return to Old Trafford sooner rather than later.

United took apart Club Brugge with clinical ease, with Bruno Fernandes at the heart of everything good. The difference between him being in and out of the United team is as clear as night and day; the schemer dictates a tempo and urgency that the supporters have been crying out for.

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That translated into a pulsating opening where the hosts went hell-for-leather to put the tie to bed early on. Fernandes had two early chances which Simon Mignolet had to save; this ambitious approach left United open to the counter and Brugge almost scored from one break, but Mats Rits fired over.

It seemed only a matter of time until the first goal and it duly arrived in the 27th minute. In the 23rd, Brugge defender Deli pulled off a full-stretch save to deny Daniel James. It was a clear penalty, but the referee took an unnecessarily long time to study VAR and conclude that yes, it was a denial of a goalscoring opportunity and a red card. 

Fernandes took the same theatrical run up to the spot-kick as he did at the weekend, this time putting the ball in the other corner, thus proving this writer - who felt such an approach could only end with the ball naturally going the other way - wrong.

The floodgates duly opened. Scott McTominay and James - who had just combined to create a chance - were at the heart of another move. Fernandes received the ball and clipped it to Juan Mata, who pulled it back for Odion Ighalo to net his first United goal. The Old Trafford crowd have taken to Ighalo; it was one of the most popular goals of the campaign thus far.

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McTominay might lay claim to that one too though; Fred, and, inevitably, Fernandes, combined to create a chance for the returning midfielder who stroked home with consummate ease.

United’s movement and passing had been exceptional. Alongside the new playmaker Juan Mata and James appear to have a new lease of life, while the confidence blossoming from the steady platform in midfield and defence gives those players an extra boost in their own game.

The tie was effectively over and the second half was rendered a non-event. Almost, anyway. Solskjaer rung the changes, giving rests to James, Fernandes and McTominay, and the game was almost petering out to nothing when Fred popped up with two late goals - the second a very clever finish indeed - to add some gloss to a scoreline which, to be frank, United richly deserved after their first-half endeavours.

The emphatic win, but more than that, the performance, will hopefully put a spring in the step of this until-now inconsistent United side. There are some strong sides remaining in the competition, such as Roma and Inter Milan, where plenty of familiar faces await.

It is easy to get carried away but it is also similarly easy, and important, to acknowledge the profound difference Fernandes has made. At the same time, though, a quality player does need a solid foundation on which to perform and Solskjaer deserves huge credit. Not only for the quality of his signings, which have all improved United immensely, but his patience and intelligence when it comes to giving players chances. There have been calls to drop Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw but the manager stood firm, believing that a run of games to get over their bumps in confidence would be of long-term benefit if they developed an understanding. He has smartly re-integrated Eric Bailly into this competitive system.

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Nemanja Matic, a player who seemed destined for the exit, now seems to possess the seniority and positive influence someone of his experience should. Fred, too, finally looks like the player who was signed for £50m from Ukraine. 

There is a level of quiet, if unspectacular, consistency which only comes from consistent selection. The virtue of patience pays rewards time and again. Solskjaer is not a man who kowtows to outside pressures and Manchester United are seeing the benefit of it.

Naturally some are curious to see how Paul Pogba would fit into this side. There is a straightforward argument that says he would benefit in the same way Mata and James have appeared to. Fernandes, though, plays with a sense of urgency and responsibility that has never been seen in Pogba’s make-up to date; the former Sporting man makes an imposing and proactive difference to his team and brings his team-mates up a level, refusing to hide behind the excuse that things aren’t happening. He makes them happen, as a player of that talent in that particular spotlight ought to.

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It is frustrating that Solskjaer has struck this balance right when Marcus Rashford is injured and Anthony Martial is also out for an as-yet undeclared period; but, as yesterday showed, the chemistry is right in the team to plunder goals in any event.

It does bode well for the future as United look to continue to build and hopefully they use this period between now and the end of the season to continue to iron out the inconsistencies. Certainly, the argument for a secure future for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer grows stronger by the game.

 

Player Ratings :

Starting XI:

Romero 7

Wan-Bissaka 7

Bailly 7

Maguire 8

Shaw 7

Fred 8

McTominay 8

Mata 8

Fernandes 9

James 7

Ighalo 7

 

Subs:

Chong 6

Lingard 6

Greenwood 6

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