Greenwood adds verve up front
These past few months have not been easiest for Manchester Unitedâs heir apparent. A breathtaking introduction to professional football stunted by teenage naivety and controversy, dropped by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and circled by certain sections of the media. When a player rises so quickly, so authoritatively, there always seems to be a strange sense of schadenfreude at their first misstep.
It might have been something of a baptism of education for Greenwood, but it would be foolish to paint this as a type of redemption arc. He only turned 19 earlier this month, and since even his earliest memories in Unitedâs academy, Greenwoodâs potential has been an undoubted constant. And so, restored on the right wing, his impression on this game was immediate, loitering off the last man, his change of acceleration striking fear.
There are many dimensions to his play, but perhaps, his greatest ability is his ball-striking. The debates over which is his strongest foot, the whip, crack and gunshot when he shoots. Itâs such a rare blend of power and precision, and so when he was gifted a single opportunity in the first half, he struck perfectly. Slipped through by Pogba, after a brilliant recovery by Fred in midfield, Greenwood timed his run brilliantly and rifled a shot across the face of goal and into the far corner. He may have been forced to endure an unwanted learning experience, but this was a move practiced so long itâs practically innate.
Van de Beek shows promise
Certainly when he signed for Â£35m in the summer, Donny van de Beek imagined a little more grandeur than being an awkward topic for press conferences, consigned to the bench, a seemingly dispensable back-up to Bruno Fernandes. Admirers have leapt to his defence, questioned his manager, and after just a few weeks, whether this was even the right move for the Dutch midfielder at all.
But in those rare glimpses when he has been given a chance, Van de Beek clearly adds a new dimension to Unitedâs side. Always intent on running between the lines, a natural ball-carrier, he is the impetus behind attacks and combines play very neatly, a skill well harnessed in his years at Ajax. Still, with Fernandes restored to the team, itâs hard to envisage how the pair can thrive alongside one another without leaving weaknesses behind, but Van de Beek is clearly a huge asset, one whoâs barely had time to settle, and it is little coincidence his presence alone has seen United immediately become more prolific.
Upamecano proves his prodigious talent
Manchester United fans are no stranger to Dayot Upamecano, a player whom they courted and ultimately rejected as a teenager. The centre-back who Bayern Munich failed to snatch under the Red Bull systemâs noses, and has since risen to being possibly the worldâs best young centre-back. The quiet, unassuming Frenchman plays in complete contrast to his personality; uncompromising and assertive in defence, deft and audacious with the ball at his feet, regularly stepping into the midfield, slipping through balls into space and even at one stage marauding around 30 yards upfield. Liverpool and United continue to be linked with approaches for Upamecano and it is frightening to an extent that he is still only 22-years-old.
Pogba finds harmony in formation
The debate around Paul Pogbaâs best position continues to rage, a seemingly insolvable conundrum, and yet tonight, perhaps, Solskjaer finally struck on an answer. Playing a diamond in midfield, Nemanja Matic guarding the defence, Fred scampering maniacally around him, Pogba found his rhythm, the freedom to express himself without the unlimited constraints whereby supporters demand everything from his at once. He assisted Greenwoodâs opener, ran well with the ball, and used his vision to pick holes in Leipzigâs admirable defence. There will always be more demanded of him and it was by no means a standout display, but United can ill-afford to leave out a player of his quality. Instead, itâs a mutual relationship, a formula that allows both the team and player to thrive. Tonight, was certainly a step in the right direction.
Unitedâs embarrassment of riches off the bench
It was something of an embarrassment of riches to bring off the bench. Holding onto a one-goal lead, in control but not without nerves, Solskjaer introduced Marcus Rashford and Fernandes off the bench. The pair were imperious, practically unplayable, and combined to devastating effect for the second goal as Rashford sprung the offside trap.
The England international, while concerting such incredible efforts off the pitch, was utterly electric from the moment he came on, too fast and skilful for Leipzigâs crumbling defence, passing off the last man as readily as blazing straight past him. The substitutions completely transformed United as a team, and it was an option Leipzig simply had no answer to as United ran away with the game.
As full-time drew, Rashford completing his hat-trick despite selflessly passing Anthony Martial the ball for the penalty, Solskjaer even afforded himself a smile and a giggle in the dugout, because while this might not necessarily be the beginning of a new chapter, you have to savour nights like these, and certainly in this competition, they are only becoming more common.