Down The Wings

Manchester United Fan Blog

Match Report & Player Ratings: Manchester United 3-1 RC Lens

(Photo by Darren Staples / AFP) (Photo by DARREN STAPLES/AFP via Getty Images)

Manchester United made a much-anticipated return to Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon with a 3-1 victory over RC Lens in the penultimate game of pre-season for Erik ten Hag’s side.

With the United manager opting to go strong with his starting lineup, fans were expecting a comprehensive and straightforward victory, but the Theatre of Dreams was stunned when Florian Sotoca lobbed home-debutant Andre Onana from range following Diogo Dalot’s error halfway through the first half.

However, a blitz within the first fifteen minutes of the second half saw Marcus Rashford and Antony turn the game on its head with well-worked moves before Casemiro claimed a fortuitous deflection as his own to put his team into cruise control for the remaining half an hour.

New €70m striker Rasmus Hojlund was presented to the crowd before kick-off in what was an added bonus for spectators, with the 20-year-old Denmark international looking jubilant as he graced the turf of his new home for the very first time.

How it went down

The first big chance of the game fell to Mason Mount, squared through on goal from Alejandro Garnacho after fifteen minutes following a terrific cross-field pass from Bruno Fernandes from the right, but Man United’s new no.7 completely fumbled the ball with just one defender to beat on the goal line, and Lens somehow survived.

United edged the early stages in terms of possession but failed to really put the fear into their French opposition as Ten Hag would have liked.

New goalkeeper Onana was cool, calm and composed as he softly headed away Brice Samba’s pass from the opposite goal and away from the onrushing forward, but he was everything but those three things, minutes later.

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Dalot- having been given the nod ahead of Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the starting eleven- played a woeful pass back to Raphael Varane on the last line of defence under very little pressure, allowing Sotoca to nip in and hit a first-time lob from just inside the United half that eventually beat a scrambling Onana, who fell into a heap inside his own net and looked just as shocked as everyone else inside the ground in the 23rd minute.

Garnacho raced down the left wing not long afterwards, choosing to take the ball on the outside of the retreating defender and shoot, yet his effort was blazed over the crossbar.

Aside from a few half chances for Mount, Antony and Garnacho, as well as an underwhelming free-kick from captain Bruno Fernandes, that was to be the only real action of the half from then on as the two teams headed into the interval with a very different feeling in and amongst the squads.

It can only be assumed that Ten Hag gave his players a real rollicking during the break, with his side coming out and blowing Franck Haise’s side away with three goals in just over ten minutes.

The first came in the 48th minute when Antony, having turned inside, played a reversed through ball on his left foot to release an onrushing Rashford on the right of the penalty area, and Rashford did the rest as the Englishman bundled it home on his right foot, helped by a deflection from the contesting defender.

Antony turned from assister to goal scorer just five minutes later after he capped off a lovely breakaway goal with a finessed effort on his left-foot inside the area. He had been set up in a three-on-two scenario by Garnacho from the opposite wing, who had collected the ball around the halfway line following a world class touch from Rashford.

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Five minutes after that, United afforded themselves some breathing space after Rashford got his head on Luke Shaw’s left-hand side free-kick, with the former’s header hitting Casemiro and wrong footing a helpless Samba in what was the scrappiest of the goals on show on Saturday.

Facundo Medina’s deflected strike called Onana into action as the latter clawed the ball away after being wrong footed, but that was about as close as Les Sang et Or (The Blood and Gold) came to a second.

Garnacho and Antony made way for Jadon Sancho and Omari Forson respectively as the game fizzled out, with both sides seemingly content with the result and happy to just build up fitness ahead of the start of their respective Premier League and Ligue 1 campaigns.

Final Score: Manchester United 3-1 RC Lens (Rashford 48’, Antony 53’, Casemiro 58’) (Sotoca 23’)

Player ratings and lineups

Starting XI: Andre Onana (6), Diogo Dalot (5), Raphael Varane (6), Lisandro Martinez (6), Luke Shaw (6), Casemiro (6), Bruno Fernandes (7), Mason Mount (6), Antony (off 81’) (6), Alejandro Garnacho (off 68’) (7), Marcus Rashford (6).

Substitutes: Tom Heaton, Matej Kovar, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof, Christian Eriksen, Donny van de Beek, Hannibal Mejbri, Facundo Pellistri, Jadon Sancho (on 68’) (6), Omari Forson (on 81’) (6).

Man of the match

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Garnacho was the star of the show in the second-to-last pre-season fixture in the eyes of many supporters, despite not being one of the three goal scorers.

The biggest compliment that can be paid to the Argentine is that, whenever he gets the ball, he gets fans on the edge of their seats; with blistering pace, effortless technique and a great footballing head on his shoulders, you just know something is going to happen when the 19-year-old picks up possession.

He was relentless in the first half when attacking down the left wing, often latching onto the ball after making runs in behind, but also carrying the ball himself across large distances of the pitch, as well as making sharp interceptions to set his side up on the transition and counter-attack.

His assist for Antony’s goal exemplified some of his best traits as he carried the ball in a three-on-two situation before making an accurate, decisive decision that led to a goal.

The fan favourite will hope to shine in the early stages of the season to put himself in good stead for the entire duration of the 2023/24 campaign.

The bigger picture

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If you had told a United fan before the game that Mount was going to squander an open net chance, that Onana would get lobbed from forty or fifty yards, and that it would be revealed after his announcement that Hojlund was actually recovering from an injury, they would have laughed in your face.

Yet in spite of the head-in-hands moments, it is important to remember that players should not be judged too heavily in pre-season. Also, from a result standpoint, United did actually go on to win, so all is well that ends well in that regard.

Sotoca’s emphatic opener did highlight, though, that with a sweeper keeper in between the sticks like Onana, who is going to be thirty yards off his line sometimes when United are in possession, the defence and midfield are going to have to be a lot tidier in their passing and ball retention. Otherwise, things will happen like what happened for Lens’ goal.

It will be interesting to see what Ten Hag opts to do in relation to his midfield selections when the proper season starts. There is a big question as to whether or not Casemiro, Mount and Fernandes can all be starting in the same team. Whilst appearing nice from an attacking perspective, it leaves Casemiro with an awful lot to do on his own in the defensive midfielder role, which in turn leaves the defence vulnerable on the transition and breakaway.

Of course, Christian Eriksen, likely Scott McTominay and potentially Sofyan Amrabat will all be in the fray next season, who each provide their own qualities from an attacking and defensive view.

On Amrabat, it has come out that the 27-year-old midfielder has rejected as many as three lucrative offers from Saudi Arabian clubs in favour of a move to Man United and the Premier League. A deal for the Moroccan depends on Fred and/or Donny van de Beek leaving United before the club approach Fiorentina for negotiations.

The announcement that Hojlund is recovering from a small injury does indicate that it will be Rashford starting as United’s striker at the start of the season, something that many fans expected to be the case anyway. 

What is next?

United next head to Dublin, Ireland to face off against Athletic Club (Athletico Bilbao) on Sunday 6th August, just over 24 hours after the victory over Lens at Old Trafford. That one kicks off at 16:00 (BST) at the Aviva Stadium, where fans should expect an entirely different squad to play.

At some point next week, United are set to play a game behind closed doors. The opposition, stadium location and kick-off time is unknown as of now, though.

Both of those games will set United up for the opening fixture of the 2023/24 Premier League season against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Old Trafford on Monday 14th August. Kick-off for the occasion is 20:00 (BST).

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