Manchester United equalled a club record of 40 home games unbeaten in all competitions, as they came from behind to beat CSKA Moscow 2-1 at Old Trafford. A somewhat controversial goal by Vitinho had put the Russian side in front, but two quickfire goals from Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford ensured United made it to the knockout stages as group winners.
Here are some of the key talking points from the game:
Goal droughts end for Lukaku and Rashford
Jose Mourinho rotated his lineup, with more than one eye on the clash with City on Sunday. Rashford was one of those to come in, partnering the ever-present Lukaku as United stuck to the 3-5-2 formation that they have been playing in recent weeks. Both strikers looked sharp; Rashford hitting the post inside four minutes, while Lukaku could also have scored before half-time. CSKA’s surprise lead looked to have galvanized the Red Devils, and two goals in two minutes were enough to seal all three points. Lukaku scored his first goal in five games, volleying in from Pogba’s delightful pass, and Rashford’s first goal since October came after he ran onto Juan Mata’s lofted ball. Mourinho will have been pleased with his strikers’ work in this game, and similar sharpness of finishing will be required for the game on Sunday
Shaw takes his chance
Luke Shaw was handed a rare starting opportunity by Mourinho, for the first time in 219 days, and he did not disappoint. Playing as a wing-back, Shaw was full of pace and energy, bombing up and down his flank regularly, and almost scoring early in the first half with a near-post volley. He almost provided Rashford with an inch-perfect cross moments later, and while CSKA’s opener did come when Shaw allowed Mario Fernandes too much time to cross, this was an extremely encouraging performance. Mourinho sounded pleased after the game as well, stating “It was a very positive performance, especially going forwards. He was deserving of that opportunity for quite a long time and he is going to get more.” It remains to be seen when he does get his next opportunity.
Qualification as group winners could be tricky
United qualified for the knockout stages as group winners, accruing fifteen points. It is a measure of how far United have fallen in recent years that this qualification occurred for the first time since David Moyes’ time in the Old Trafford dugout. United have spent most of the time since then mucking about in the Europa League, and it was only their win in the competition last season that allowed them to enter this year’s Champions League. Mourinho deserves credit for the way in which his side have navigated an admittedly easy group; however, their status as group winners could yet have pitfalls. Bayern Munich, Juventus and the holders Real Madrid are all guaranteed to finish second in their groups, with Sevilla, Napoli and Porto possible opponents as well. Mourinho must be hoping the luck of the draw is kind to him for once, as he alluded to post-match.
Derby day will soon be upon us
The team selection for last night’s game made it very clear which fixture was the priority, with six changes being made. David de Gea, Ashley Young, Anthony Martial and Marcos Rojo all stepped down from duty, while Nemanja Matic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were given time to recover for the derby. . City were the last team to beat United at home, and if such an outcome is to be avoided, Mourinho needs his walking wounded to play through the pain on Sunday. The likes of Antonio Valencia, Ander Herrera and Romelu Lukaku were also taken off after United took the lead, with all three having thankfully avoided injuries. Paul Pogba begins his three-match suspension with the game on Sunday, and he will be sorely missed, as always. However, Henrikh Mkhitaryan failed to make a matchday squad for the fifth time in six games, and he looks unlikely to return from banishment for the derby like he did last season.