Manchester United 3 Partizan Belgrade 0
Manchester United’s vibrant young attack shot the Reds into the knockout stages of the Europa League with two matches to spare as we tore Partizan Belgrade apart en route to a 3-0 victory.
Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, with an average age of 21 between them, were far too hot for the Serbians as they all got on the scoresheet to make it a stroll into the next stage for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side, ahead of the long-haul trip to Kazakhstan at the end of this month against Astana and the Old Trafford final group L game against AZ Alkmaar in December.
There was no shortage of early goalmouth action, though both managers would have been angry that it all came about largely through defensive sloppiness.
Both sides had goals chalked off in the first four minutes of the tie. Martial, who scored the penalty winner in Belgrade last month, knew straight away he wouldn’t get away with it when he latched onto Rashford’s pass clearly in an offside position. However, the French striker tucked the ball in anyway before accepting the flag ruling out his effort.
Within a minute, his opposite no.9, Umar Sadiq’s shot was deflect over Sergio Romero by Marcos Rojo but he, too, was offside.
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Rashford should have got the Reds on the scoresheet legitimately, after nine minutes, when Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s cross took a kind deflection into his path. With no markers in touching distance, he struck his shot wide from 10 yards out.
United's no.10 then volleyed over following a deep cross by Wan-Bissaka. It would have been the rapid scoring start Solskjaer had called for but he didn’t have to wait too much longer to get what he had demanded.
Greenwood then supplied a cool finish in the 21st minute to open the scoring. After Rashord’s ball had split the defence, the teenage hitman cut inside his marker and, with Vladimir Stojkovic off balance, fired in a left-foot drive to make it 1-0.
Partizan were not put off by the setback and showed more adventure that ended with Seydouba Soumah curling a counter-attack shot wide four minutes later.
Martial came up with a brilliant solo goal to make it 2-0 in the 33rd minute.
He pounced on a deflected clearance, off Greenwood, then danced through three attempted challenges from Partizan defenders before slotting the ball home with his favoured right foot.
The lively centre-forward could have made it two in a minute but followed up his clinical execution with a slightly off target chip over the bar as keeper Stojkovic advanced.
There was no letting up from an increasingly confident United as we came steaming out of the traps for the second half. Four minutes after the interval, Juan Mata sent a long accurate cross-field pass to Ashley Young.
The skipper cushioned his lay-off for Rashford to stick a belting drive high into the net for 3-0. Young then almost added a goal to his assist but saw his free-kick curl just wide as the Reds looked to grab a hatful with the Serbs wilting.
Fred almost made it four but his free-kick was tipped over by Partizan’s overworked keeper Stojkovic and the Brazilian then made way for James Garner, making his home senior debut, after 63 minutes.
Solskjaer made a second substitution minutes later with Andreas Pereira coming on for Rashford, who received a deserved ovation.
It was an encouraging 49-minute goal bonanza for the Reds but three substitutions interrupted the flow and we couldn't add to the goal haul as time wore on. An injury to Scott McTominay was the only negative as Sergio Romero kept another clean sheet, with United still to concede in this season's Europa League.
We now look ahead to the round of 32 draw on December 16 in Nyon but top spot in Group L remains open after AZ crushed Astana 5-0 in Kazakhstan.
United: Romero; Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Rojo, Young (c); McTominay (Lingard 75), Fred (Garner 63) Greenwood, Mata, Rashford (Andreas 65); Martial.
Subs not used: Grant, Jones, Williams, James.
Scorers: Greenwood 21, Martial 33, Rashford 49.
Partizan: Stojkovic, Miletic, Ostojic, Pavlovic, Urosevic, Zdjelar, Natcho (Tosic 59), Scekic, Soumah, Asano (F Stevanovic 69), Sadiq (Ivanovic 85)
Subs not used: N. Stevanovic, Vujacic, Brezancic, Lutovac
Bookings: Natcho, Pavlovic.