Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Match report: United 2-1 CSKA Moscow

United rubber-stamped qualification into the last 16 as group winners and set a new club record of 40 home matches unbeaten with a comeback victory. 

We fell behind on the stroke of half-time through Alan Dzagoev's controversial opener, but two goals in as many minutes from Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford, ensured that we end the group stage with five wins from six fixtures. The win also saw United preserve our perfect record at Old Trafford this season with the Manchester derby looming large on Sunday. 

The Russian side arrived in Manchester locked together with Basel, and needing to better the result of the Swiss side's tie in Lisbon, to keep alive their own hopes of qualification. Basel won 2-0 to clinch second spot behind United and condemned Viktor Goncharenko's team to the Europa League in 2018. 

The Reds started strongly and almost went ahead inside four minutes through Rashford, who latched onto Lukaku's through ball and fired against a post. Luke Shaw, making his first start of the season having played only 48 minutes so far, then went close on 20 minutes.
Playing as a left wing-back, Shaw burst clear into the box and stung the palms of the visitors veteran goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev with a 20 yarder, and a stretching Lukaku was narrowly unable to turn home the rebound. 

It was CSKA who took the lead completely out of the blue and against the run of play on the cusp of the interval, with their first attempt of the game. Mario Fernandes cut the ball back for Vitinho - who was in an offside position between Sergio Romero and Chris Smalling - and his shot deflected off Dzagoev and into the net. 

United started the second half on the front foot and went close twice early on shortly after the restart. Rashford forced a smart stop from Akinfeev and Smalling then headed wide after the excellent Juan Mata had picked him out. The Reds continued to up the ante and our pressure was rewarded with the equaliser four minutes after the hour mark. 

Paul Pogba's perfect, pinpoint pass picked out Lukaku, and the Belgian striker - who had gone close a few moments earlier - volleyed in from close range for his 13th goal of the season. 
Two minutes later, the turnaround was complete when Mata's magnificent reverse pass found the impressive Rashford in space and he made no mistake with a clinical finish beyond Akinfeev, for his first goal in nine games. 

Stand-in stopper Romero (DDG was given a well-earned breather after his weekend heroics) had little to do with United in control, but he was called into action and kept out Dzagoev with his feet as CSKA almost hit back straight away. 

That proved to be the last action of the tie, as Basel won 2-0 away to Benfica, who finish bottom without a point, to ensure they join United in Monday's draw for the last 16.
Overall team performance: 7.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Juan Mata. With honourable mentions to Rashford and Shaw, Mata gets the nod for a majestic performance.

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