Talking Points from United's win in Belgrade
Manchester United earned an important 1-0 win over Partizan Belgrade on Thursday night, taking charge of UEFA Europa League Group L on a rowdy and intimidating night in Serbia.
Catch up on the main talking points from the whole day on the continent…
BACK IN BELGRADE
United’s second first-team match in Serbia’s capital city since the 1958 Munich Air Disaster was marked by a private ceremony at Partizan Stadium on Thursday morning, when executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward delivered a short address before Bryan Robson and Mickey Thomas laid a wreath on the pitch. It was an emotional event at the scene of the Busby Babes’ final match, prior to their fateful flight home that tragically never reached its final destination. We will never forget them.
LONG OVERDUE AWAY WIN
Prior to this match, United had not won in 11 consecutive away fixtures across all competitions and that disappointing sequence stretched all the way back to last season’s miraculous victory over Paris Saint-Germain in France. Thankfully, it is now over and the victory bodes well for the Reds, with three more matches on the road coming up against Norwich City, Chelsea and Bournemouth.
An early kick-off did nothing to quell the atmosphere in Belgrade at the brilliantly old-school Partizan Stadium, which has a capacity of 32,710 and generates a din to match a far greater number. The most noise came from the North Stand and the Partizan supporters who are traditionally referred to as Groban, which loosely translates as 'the Gravediggers' or 'Undertakers'. They fired streams of white confetti towards the pitch, banged drums, bounced and chanted for much of the game, all orchestrated by a single fan who had vaulted a wall, armed with a megaphone and strong vocal chords! It was an impressive spectacle but Ole's Reds handled the occasion.
With regular captains Ashley Young and David De Gea both in Manchester, resting up, Harry Maguire was given the honour of leading United in Europe. His duties arguably began when he held the pre-match press conference and spoke so confidently to the media, but the acid test was of course the game itself and our England international did well, marshalling a new-look defensive line while also commanding the team as a whole. His only blemish? Reporting late for the coin toss!
THREE AT THE BACK AGAIN
Solskjaer experimented against Liverpool by starting with three central defenders and two buccaneering wing-backs, and to good effect, so it was perhaps unsurprising to see the manager retain that shape in Belgrade. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Brandon Williams took their places on the left and right flanks, with Phil Jones, Maguire and Marcos Rojo in the middle. It worked well again, until the 60th minute when Ole reverted to a back-four following a couple of substitutions.
James Garner was excellent during the pre-season tour and has been impressing with the Under-23s all season, scoring regularly from the middle of the park, but a first-team opportunity in 2019/20 had not arrived until Thursday night. The young midfielder was handed a much-deserved start and a full United debut, playing in central midfield alongside fellow homegrown product Scott McTominay.
EXCITEMENT ON THE LEFT
Brandon Williams capped an excellent month in his personal development by producing another impressive display at left wing-back, providing a constant outlet and crucially winning the first-half penalty from which Martial scored. The youth product made his full debut against AZ Alkmaar earlier in October and followed that up by signing a long-term contract at the club.
Promising Under-23s duo Matej Kovar and Ethan Laird were named in Solskjaer’s 20-man travelling squad, but the youngsters were ultimately not required on matchday and they watched from the dugout in their club suit. Nevertheless, the trip was clearly a huge positive and allowed them to experience what first-team life is like on the continent.
REDS IN CHARGE OF GROUP L
The 1-0 win has placed United top of the group, with seven points from three matches played, with AZ Alkmaar in second on five points following their 6-0 win over Astana. Partizan visit Old Trafford on Thursday 7 November and another victory from that tie would guarantee qualification.
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