United entered this tough away tie in Moscow on the back of a poor performance away at Southampton. They had, however, secured three points in that game, just as they had in their opening Champions League tie with Basel. Thankfully, they continued this form by winning 4-1. They were in complete control for almost the entire game, before CSKA grabbed a late consolation goal.
Mourinho decided to play a 3-4-3 for the first time this season, as well as making five changes to the team that played the Saints at the weekend. Young moved over to right wing-back, with Blind replacing him on the left. Lindelof, Smalling and Bailly, made up the back three, with Matic and Herrera the midfield two in front. Martial and Mkhitaryan played in behind Lukaku. CSKA also played a back 3. Their team included Alan Dzagoev and Igor Akinfeev, as well as the tough old guard of Sergei Ignashevich and Vasili Berezutski.
Wearing their light grey kit designed by a fan, United dominated the first half from start to finish. They opened the scoring with their first attempt in the third minute. Lukaku played Martial in down the left flank. After holding the ball up, the Frenchman turned back on his right to cross from the side of the box. The Belgian had followed the play up into the box and leapt above Ignasevich to nod into the bottom right-hand corner of the Russian goal. Yet again Lukaku was just too strong for his opposing defender. He just cannot stop scoring.
CSKA went up the other end and had a shot from the edge of the area pawed out for a corner by De Gea. The crowd were still bouncing and chanting with ferocity, attempting to create an intimidating atmosphere. Unperturbed, United continued to control the game, fashioning another chance for Mkhitaryan. The Armenian started the move, sliding the ball out to Blind. The Dutchman turned and drilled a low cross into the box. Mkhitaryan got onto the end of the ball but his shot was blasted straight at Akinfeev. He should have scored.
Only five minutes later, United scored again from the spot. Mkhitaryan meandered into the area down the right-hand side, only for Schennikov to bring him down with the slowest slide tackle you will ever see. Glaciers have made faster challenges. The 5th (or 6th) official signalled for the penalty, Martial calmly slotting it into the bottom right-hand corner.
After 26 minutes, the Reds had sealed up the victory. Martial clipped a ball into the Muscovite’s penalty area. Berezutsky stepped across to seemingly make a routine clearance, only to miss the ball. He stuck a leg out in a similar fashion to a child forced to take part in PE. Lukaku somehow predicted this, gliding in at the back post to score. Game over.
The 3-4-3 United had deployed worked perfectly. Mkhitaryan and Martial consistently found pockets of space behind Lukaku. Martial ran at the mortified CSKA defence while Mkhitaryan was able to link up with the rest of the side and create at will. As a whole, United were very fluid and kept the ball with ease, never under any threat. It will be interesting to see if they ever play in this shape in the Premier League.
The Reds started the second half how they ended the first with Lukaku combining with Martial on the edge of the area, receiving it back from the Frenchman and blasting it at goal. Akinfeev was equal to it and palmed it away. The shot was straight at the Russian, either side and Lukaku would have had his first United hat-trick. Blind had a chance for his first goal of the season after a deep Young cross, but he headed over from six yards.
United’s fourth was scored by Mkhitaryan with his last kick of the game in the 56th minute. Ignashevich attempted to play the ball into midfield but only found a grateful Herrera. The Spaniard slipped in Martial who was one on one with Akinfeev. Again, the Russian saved, but Mkhitaryan followed up managing to slot the ball home. The Armenian was immediately substituted for Lingard and was undoubtedly being saved for the game against Palace. Despite only playing for an hour, the balletic playmaker dominated the game, always looking for the ball and attempting to create. The fact that the game and United significantly slowed down once he left really highlights the impact he made.
Lingard had the chance to score with his first touch. The substitute looked certain to score after he was slipped in by Martial, who had also been incredibly impressive. But yet again, Akinfeev came out and thwarted another United chance. The Russian keeper had an incredible game, without him it could have been 7 or 8-1.
After the Lingard chance, United started to slow the game down, happy to keep the ball and wind down the clock. Martial went off on 70 minutes, slightly limping as he exited. Hopefully, this is not a substantial injury. The Frenchman was magnificent throughout, terrifying the Russian backline whenever he began dribbling at them. A goal and two and a half assists isn’t a bad night’s work.
Martial and Mkhitaryan’s replacements, Rashford and Lingard, weren’t able to exert as much influence as their predecessors and as a consequence, the game petered out. Darmian had a chance to make it five, after a fifty-yard ball from left to right by Matic set him free in the box. Akinfeev set upon the Italian, blocking his poked effort away from goal, in front of his now largely topless support. The CSKA Moscow support had taken the lull in the game as a chance to strip off.
United appeared to have sauntered to a comfortable 4-0 victory, but in the 90th minute, Kuchaev took away their clean sheet. The substitute was sent through on the Red’s right-hand side, running onto the end of a lovely chip from Golovin. The teenage Russian drilled it through De Gea’s legs from a tight angle. CSKA had barely threatened all night, De Gea had made a few saves from distance but this was their one and only proper chance. Mourinho will be furious that United conceded.
United recorded an incredibly easy win out in Russia. They controlled the game from start to finish. The late goal aside they never looked in any trouble and in the first hour, they created chances at will. Lukaku should have had a hattrick and Martial and Mkhitaryan were unplayable. This new 3-4-3 formation looked imperious against an admittedly poor side. United now top of the group with a doubleheader against the bottom side to come. This was a very successful mission to Moscow.