Manchester United continued their unbeaten winning start to their UEFA Champions League campaign, thrashing CSKA Moscow 4-1 at the Arena CSKA to open a three-point lead at the top of Group A.
On Matchday 1, United had comfortably beaten Swiss side FC Basel 3-0, but Wednesday’s performance in Russia topped it easily, as the Red Devils were three goals to the good inside 30 minutes.
Jose Mourinho’s experiment with a 3-4-3 system turned out to be a masterstroke as goals from top-scorer Romelu Lukaku (two) and Anthony Martial put the result beyond doubt despite having an hour still to play.
The visitors’ front-three all fired, helped by a four-man midfield of Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera, Ashley Young and Daley Blind, who monopolised possession and hardly gave the Russian side any time on the ball.
Martial, who has struggled to get a run of starts in United’s first XI, delivered an inviting cross for Lukaku at the far-post from the left flank and the burly Belgian powered home a header to give United the best of starts.
The £75 million acquisition has hit the ground running since his summer move from Everton and his ninth goal in as many games has forced his critics to simmer down in recent weeks.
The hosts mustered a strong response but United, thanks to the brilliant David de Gea, managed to keep the Russian side at bay.
United would double their lead when Mkhitaryan was unceremoniously bundled over in the box and referee Jonas Eriksson promptly pointed to the spot.
Martial confidently stepped up to take the spot-kick and his effort sent Igor Akinfeev the wrong way.
Lukaku would then double his tally three minutes before the half-hour mark after Martial’s cross eluded the CSKA defence but not the striker, who tapped-in from close range.
The third goal deflated the home side and United began to play with their trademark swagger. Despite a number of attempts, they were unable to increase the margin before the interval.
The second-half began as the first had ended, with the Red Devils in the ascendancy as Akinfeev was kept busy by Lukaku and co from the moment the game restarted.
United sustained the pressure and were rewarded for their efforts when Mkhitaryan followed up on Martial’s shot from outside the box to tap-in three minutes before the hour mark.
Mourinho responded to his side taking a 4-0 lead by taking of Mkhitaryan and Young, with one eye on a Premier League clash with Crystal Palace on Saturday and introduced Marcus Rashford for Martial later on.
Rashford, who like Martial, has come on from the bench to score on a number of occasions this season, was unable to affect the scoreline for United had taken the foot off the gas by then.
CSKA manager Viktor Goncharenko sent on Konstanin Kuchaev in the 84th minute and within six minutes of his introduction, the substitute had scored. The midfielder’s low shoot squeezed past de Gea’s legs at the near-post to give the home fans something to cheer for.
In the other Group A game on the night, Basel thumped Benfica 5-0 and are now second with three points, behind United, who have maximum points from two games. CSKA also have three points, but are in third place due to their inferior goal difference compared to the Swiss team.
Considering United’s early-season form, it is safe to assume the battle for second-place will be between Basel and CSKA and once the international break concludes, the duo will be battling it out in a bid to reach the knockout stages.