Saturday 24 August 2019

Solskjaer's young guns execute to perfection

Mancester United 4  Chelsea 0

Manchester United’s Anthony Martial celebrates with Marcus Rashford after scoring against Chelsea. Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
Manchester United’s Anthony Martial celebrates with Marcus Rashford after scoring against Chelsea. Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Jason Burt

So much angst gripped Manchester United supporters as transfer deadline day came and went last week, but this is where it mattered. Yesterday was where Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made his statement; where, quite literally, the United manager counter-attacked.

Romelu Lukaku was sold, no big-name attacking player was signed, with interest in Paulo Dybala, Christian Eriksen and Mario Mandzukic proving fruitless, but this was an exciting glimpse of the future and the present as Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial stepped up to sweep aside new-era Chelsea.

Marcus Rashford of Manchester United scores the third goal. Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
Marcus Rashford of Manchester United scores the third goal. Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Risk-and-reward football, Solskjaer called it, and while he admitted that United rode their luck, they got their reward.

There was also a debut goal to finish from Daniel James, the €19 million recruit from Swansea City, who celebrated with wild, youthful exuberance in front of the Stretford End.

It felt like a release, with the poignancy of James dedicating the goal to his father, Kevan, who died just before he sealed his big move.

Telling

Rashford scored twice and played a key role in Martial's goal and it was telling that the French forward pointed to the No 9 on his shirt.

Manchester United's Daniel James (L) vies with Chelsea's Spanish defender Cesar Azpilicueta (R). Photo: Getty Images
Manchester United's Daniel James (L) vies with Chelsea's Spanish defender Cesar Azpilicueta (R). Photo: Getty Images

Having had the number taken from him when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was signed, with it then going to Lukaku, Martial reclaimed it and did so in emphatic style.

"That's where the No 9s get the goals," Solskjaer said. Now Martial has to carry on.

If the scoreline was pretty harsh on Chelsea, who struck the woodwork twice and took the game to United, then the scale of the task was laid bare to their new manager Frank Lampard, who is committed to youth, but was let down by some schoolboy errors in defence, and not least by his experienced captain, Cesar Azpilicueta, and centre-half Kurt Zouma.

It was a chastening afternoon for Chelsea, who suffered their biggest defeat against United since 1965, with the cold reality of life after Eden Hazard dawning, even if there was encouragement in the performance of 20-year-old Mason Mount, and with Christian Pulisic to acclimatise.

Manchester United's English striker Marcus Rashford (C) shoots to score from the penalty spot for the opening goal. Photo: Getty Images
Manchester United's English striker Marcus Rashford (C) shoots to score from the penalty spot for the opening goal. Photo: Getty Images

This was the first time these clubs had met in the opening round of Premier League fixtures since Jose Mourinho's first spell at Chelsea, when he won at Stamford Bridge in 2004. The former Chelsea and United manager was at Old Trafford as a pundit and highlighted the impressive debut performance of Harry Maguire, but could not help pointedly adding of the €91m centre-half that "he arrived one year too late".

A bonus for United was a clean sheet, their first since February, and the encouraging display also of another of their expensive defensive arrivals in Aaron Wan-Bissaka, while Paul Pogba put aside his desire to leave with a hard-working if error-prone performance.

Before United get too carried away, this was the fifth time in a row they have won on the opening day of their past five campaigns, but it was by far their most resonant victory given the importance of it to Solskjaer, the need to get back on track, "re-set" and give some of the young players their head.

Much has been made of how Lampard will blood young players, and while he was brave enough to install Mount as his playmaker and 21-year-old Tammy Abraham as his centre-forward, the United team were even younger and were younger still when James, 21, and then 17-year-old Mason Greenwood went on.

Paul Pogba of Manchester United battles for possession with Mason Mount and Ross Barkley of Chelsea. Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
Paul Pogba of Manchester United battles for possession with Mason Mount and Ross Barkley of Chelsea. Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

United pressed hard, pushed hard, worked hard, were ruthless and, also, a little fortunate, before the goals started to flow in the second half as Chelsea became increasingly ragged.

Almost as memorable as James's goal was the sight of the winger tricking N'Golo Kante down the left flank, with the accomplished World Cup-winning midfielder reduced to hacking him down. United's second will have been Solskjaer's dream, resulting from a rapid counter-attack, but originating from Maguire proving too strong for Abraham on the edge of his own box before Scott McTominay set Rashford sprinting to find Jesse Lingard. The ball was turned back to Andreas Pereira who pushed it to the byeline and crossed for Martial to steal ahead of Kepa Arrizabalaga and steer it into the net.

Ninety-five seconds later, United scored again, to kill the contest, with Pogba showing his passing ability by floating the ball between Andreas Christensen and Azpilicueta, for Rashford to run on to, take down and quickly stab home from 20 yards.

It was Rashford who had opened the scoring, converting a first-half penalty, after he was fouled by Zouma but that only came after a period in which Chelsea dominated and Abraham was unfortunate when he beat David De Gea with a powerful shot that cannoned back off a post.

"First half we hung in there, to be fair," Solskjaer admitted.

United completed the scoring late on with another thrilling counter-attacking goal and one which they desperately hope will be the standard for what Pogba can provide as he ran from inside his own half, played a one-two with Martial, and continued going before sliding a pass through to James, who adjusted to shoot off the calf of Emerson, wrong-footing Arrizabalaga and into the goal to trigger those celebrations and seal Chelsea's biggest opening day defeat.

"We've got to go for it," Solskjaer said. There is much work to do, but they undoubtedly did that. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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