Manchester United kept their Champions League dream very much on track with a comfortable 5-0 win against Austrian side LASK in a game where their January signings shone.
Some players need time to adapt to a new league and a new team. Not Fernandes. The playmaker has fitted in seamlessly at Old Trafford and was pulling the strings again in Linz.
A lovely flick through to Ighalo for his opener was Fernandes’ fourth assist for United in just nine games since arriving in the January transfer window. Many will likely forget it given the quality of Ighalo’s finish, however.
It was a goal that deserved to be witnessed by a full stadium, a moment of magic from the on-loan striker, as he juggled the ball on the edge of the area before smashing it past Alexander Schlager to give Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side the lead in the first half.
The Norwegian applauded from the away dugout in the empty Linzer Stadion as he watched the fruition of his January transfer dealings come together.
Ighalo’s performance in Linz again showcased the best of his ability with his strong hold-up play and clinical finishing giving United a much-needed focal point, but it is the arrival of Fernandes that has really given United hope in their push for Champions League football next season.
There was a period not too long ago where a return to the top tier of European football seemed a long shot as United struggled to string a run of wins together. But now, as they continued on an 11-match unbeaten run – the longest since Solskjaer’s first few weeks at the club – they look like an organised outfit who have more than one option available to them to get back to the top.
United should have been more than a goal up at the break in Austria with Juan Mata fluffing his lines early on while perfect corner deliveries from Fernandes provided opportunities for Scott McTominay and Harry Maguiret. Solskjaer had made five changes to the side that beat Manchester City so convincingly in the derby on Sunday, but they still played with a cohesion that defied the number of new faces on the teamsheet.
Those who came in stepped up and there were commanding performances all over the pitch. Eric Bailly, making his fourth start since his long injury lay-off, slotted in next to Maguire while Brandon Williams looked comfortable playing out of position at right-back. On paper it should always have been an easy victory for United, but it was an all-round impressive display from Solskjaer’s side.
They doubled their lead after the break as Daniel James broke a 32-game goal drought with a composed finish into the bottom corner, with Ighalo this time providing the assist. The 30-year-old’s passing accuracy was perfect from start to finish and he has brought an alternative option to United’s front line.
On a night where Fernandes impressed again, fellow midfielder Fred was keen to remind those watching on that anything the new boy can do, he believes he can do better as he produced a sublime assist for Mata to wrap up the game, and arguably the tie, eight minutes from time.
United were not done there as substitutes Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood combined for the latter to fire in at the near post to give United a four goal cushion before Andreas Pereira tried his luck from range and beat a despairing Schlager to net his first ever away goal for the club.