There aren’t too many things Manchester United are better at than their City rivals right now, but taking penalties seems to be one of them. While City missed two penalties against Everton last Saturday, United showed them how should be done last night by scoring two penalties in their 4-1 Europa League win over Fenerbahce at Old Trafford.
United’s four goals also came the day after City conceded four goals – albeit in the Champions League to the mighty Barcelona and a wonderful hat-trick from irrepressible genius Messi – a reversal for United fans to enjoy, no matter how momentary.
After a nondescript opening half an hour, the game sparked to life when United were awarded two penalties in just three minutes after some clumsy defending from Fenerbahce. Interestingly, United’s regular penalty taker, Wayne Rooney, allowed Paul Pogba to take the first and Anthony Martial the second. It was a surprisingly magnanimous gesture from the beleaguered United skipper, who desperately needs goals, not only to silence his ever growing critics, but also because he is only three goals behind Bobby Charlton’s all time United goalscoring record.
Ironically, it was against Fenerbahce in the Champions League 12 years ago that a precocious 18 year old Rooney made a spectacular debut for United, scoring a dazzling hat trick that provided a thrilling glimpse of his gilded future. If the present Rooney is a shadow of that effortless goal-scoring past self, he is still proving pivotal to United’s fortunes. Perhaps he gave the penalties to Pogba and Martial to help them gain some much needed goal scoring confidence themselves. Rooney’s generosity certainly paid off when Pogba scored a stunning third goal from 20 yards after a triangle of short passes involving Rooney and Jesse Lingard, who laid the ball off to Pogba. An identical move involving the triumvirate at the start of the second half saw Pogba pass to Rooney on the edge of the box, who laid it off for Lingard this time. His sweet strike gave United their fourth goal and three valuable points to take them second in the group. The dancing goal celebrations between Pogba and Lingard – United’s most expensive buy and the one who cost them nothing – were as memorable as the goals themselves. Perhaps they were auditioning for an invite to Strictly Come Dancing!
It was a night for trips down memory lane. The biggest cheer of the match was reserved for Fenerbahce’s late consolation goal, scored by United old boy Robin Van Persie. It was a trademark tap in reminiscent of the good old days. They don’t forget their own at Old Trafford. It was thanks to Van Persie’s 30 goals that United won their last Premier League title back in 2013 in Fergie’s swansong year. The United fans were loud and generous in their acclaim for their former hero. What would they give for a 30 goals a season striker right now?
As it is, at least they get to enjoy a better week than City. Which is saying something in a week that began with a dour 0-0 away trip to Anfield. It will end with a kind of homecoming for Jose Mourinho, when United travel to Stamford Bridge on Sunday. United fans will be hoping that’s another trip down memory lane which ends with a victory for their team.