Not for the first time this season, the Europa League provided the platform for Manchester United to show their true form.
After another frustrating draw in the Premier League, this time against Arsenal, it was at home in Europe that United made its dominance count in a big way, with goals from Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and an own-goal from Australian goalkeeper Brad Jones giving the Red Devils a 4-0 win over Dutch side Feyenoord.
Manager Jose Mourinho picked a strong team to take on the must-win fixture which was crucial to United’s Europa League ambitions and was duly rewarded with a brilliant performance and the goals to match.
Here are our five lessons…
MKHITARYAN NEEDS MORE GAME TIME
Even for the most ardent football lover familiar with Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s exploits at Borussia Dortmund, the Armenia international has been something of an enigma at Manchester United thus far.
A hugely promising talent, a combination of injuries, one-off poor performances and a seemingly strained relationship has limited the 27-year-old’s first-team involvement thus far.
Mkhitaryan got his first start since a poor first-half performance in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford in September and while his lack of match fitness showed at times, he was undoubtedly one of the most exciting players on the park.
The attacking midfielder was United’s best dribbler on the park and for the first time since joining United, his football smarts were on full display. His execution was a touch off at times and he was not helped by the referee’s failure to call blatant fouls on him, but this was a glimpse of the different dimension Mkhitaryan can offer.
A great first touch, quick feet, an eye for a pass and great intelligence off the ball are all the ingredients United fans love to see and with more games and minutes under his belt, it is surely a matter of time before those attributes turn to goals and assists.
ROONEY’S MOMENT TO SHINE
Even Wayne Rooney’s biggest detractors cannot take away from him the fact that he is now Manchester United’s all-time leading goalscorer in European competition.
Rooney showed plenty of class in United’s last 4-0 Europa League thrashing against Fenerbache to let Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial take the penalties that would have seen Rooney secure that achievement two European games earlier, but he will be glad he did now.
The goal he scored was totally befitting of the honour. Picking up the ball in his own half from a throw-in, Rooney started and then finished the move for United’s opening goal with a lovely chipped finish.
It was vintage Rooney and a timely reminder, perhaps for him as much as anyone else, of what he remains capable of when he is fit and sharp.
PERSISTENT UNITED A GOOD OMEN
If there has been one pleasing element of United’s inconsistent results, it is that the frustrating nature of the results have not eaten into the continuous improvement in the level of performance.
More often than not this season, United has failed to take the rewards they deserve from good performances this season. One of the major concerns from that trend has been that the frustration might lead to poorer performances from individuals or might cause Mourinho to lose faith in the processes that brought a strong start to the season and hunt for a quick fix.
Instead, the opposite has happened.
Mourinho has remained consistent in his selections and remained true to the players who have played well, even if the results have not fallen United’s way and this 4-0 drubbing was a due reward for that approach. Let’s hope it continues against West Ham United in the Premier League.
One of the stats doing the rounds after the win has centred around Michael Carrick and his presence in almost all of United’s best performances and wins this season.
Carrick has played eight games, from which United have seven wins and one draw with 22 goals scored.
That is perhaps a pretty broad link to make – particularly where goals are concerned – and that is not to say that Carrick is solely responsible for those results, but it is indicative of the calming influence the midfielder has on the rest of his team-mates.
Paul Pogba looks the biggest beneficiary from a midfield perspective, but the back four behind him also greatly benefit from the former England international’s ever-present availability as an outlet and the remarkable job he does of screening and protecting them from dangerous passes.
The concerning thing is how often can United rely on him? Carrick is no spring chicken and while Mourinho’s use of Carrick – or lack thereof – earlier in the season now looks a smart move in keeping him fresh for the busy run of important fixtures United now face, there is simply no way the 35-year-old can be relied upon to play three games a week.
This was not Sergio Romero’s busiest night of his career, but the stand-in United goalkeeper was reliable when called upon and his first-half saves were crucial to United’s win and clean sheet.
A team like Feyenoord was always going to have its moments and without David de Gea in goal, it would be fair to say United fans might have been a bit nervy about Romero’s ability to keep the Dutch side out when those moments came.
Thankfully, those moments were few and far in between, but when they came, Romero was there to save the day, most notably in the first half when he made two good reaction saves, the second of which to deny former Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt.
De Gea will right reclaim his spot between the sticks for West Ham this weekend, but it’s good to know Romero is looking sharp as a back-up.