Lukaku, Rashford send Man Utd into last 16
Manchester United’s Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku shoots under pressure from CSKA Moscow’s Russian defender Viktor Vasin (L) to score their first goal during the UEFA Champions League Group A football match between Manchester United and CSKA Moscow at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England on December 5, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Oli SCARFF
Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford scored as Manchester United defeated CSKA Moscow 2-1 on Tuesday to reach the Champions League knockout rounds for the first time since 2013-14.
A contentious goal awarded to Vitinho gave CSKA a shock lead on half-time, but Lukaku and Rashford struck twice in two second-half minutes to send Jose Mourinho’s side into the last 16 as Group A winners.
After Saturday’s 3-1 win at Arsenal, victory at Old Trafford sustained United’s momentum ahead of Sunday’s crucial derby showdown with runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City.
“I’m really happy because we don’t want to qualify with a defeat, we don’t want to qualify with a bad performance,” said Mourinho.
“So the objective was to qualify playing well and try to get a positive result. I think we did that very, very well.”
In avoiding defeat, United extended their run of unbeaten home games to 40 in all competitions, their last loss on home turf being a 2-1 defeat by City in September last year.
With Basel qualifying by winning 2-0 away to Benfica in the other group game, CSKA had to content themselves with a place in the knockout phase of the Europa League.
Mourinho made six changes to the team that had beaten Arsenal, handing a rare start to forgotten left-back Luke Shaw, and the low-key feel was only exacerbated when the Champions League music failed to play prior to kick-off.
Restored to the United attack in place of Anthony Martial, Rashford procured a couple of early chances.
He scuffed a shot against the post from Lukaku’s pass and then, after Juan Mata had brilliantly brought down a lofted Daley Blind pass and cut the ball back, drew a one-handed save from Igor Akinfeev.
Making his first start since April, Shaw got forward well from his left wing-back role, stinging Akinfeev’s palms with a volley and narrowly failing to pick out Rashford with a low cross.
But CSKA looked purposeful when they had opportunities to attack and after Vasili Berezutski and Vitinho had shot over, they took the lead right on half-time. And in curious fashion.
Mario Fernandes cut the ball back from the byline on the right and Vitinho’s stabbed effort struck Alan Dzagoev on the back and bounced into the net.
At first glance Dzagoev appeared to be offside, but replays showed he had been played onside by Blind, who had slid off the pitch as he attempted to cut out Fernandes’s pass.
Adding to the confusion, UEFA initially credited the goal to Dzagoev, only to then award it to Vitinho.
United quickly set about restoring parity in the second half, Rashford working Akinfeev with a rasping drive from a narrow angle, and in the 64th minute they levelled.
From the inside-left channel, Paul Pogba used his left foot to play a raking pass in behind the CSKA defence and Lukaku held off Viktor Vasin to toe a close-range volley past a wrong-footed Akinfeev.
It was only the Belgium striker’s second goal in his last 13 appearances.
The visitors barely had time to kick off before finding themselves behind as Mata’s lobbed pass set Rashford scuttling into the box to plant a left-foot shot inside Akinfeev’s left-hand post.
Mourinho used the opportunity to hand game time to youth-team graduates Scott McTominay and Axel Tuanzebe, both of whom came on as late substitutes.
But there was almost a sting in the tail for the hosts after Dzagoev stole into space and forced Sergio Romero — deputising in goal for Emirates Stadium hero David de Gea — to save with his legs.
“Considering we finished third in the group, it’s not a bad result, and fighting for qualification until the last day is not bad either,” said CSKA coach Viktor Goncharenko.
“We picked up some good experience from this Champions League campaign, especially for the young players.”