Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho said his side are “almost” in the Champions League knockout stages after thrashing CSKA Moscow in Russia.
Romelu Lukaku scored twice, Anthony Martial netted a penalty and Henrikh Mkhitaryan hit the fourth as the Red Devils maintained their 100% record in Group A.
The Old Trafford side had won just one of their previous 10 away games in the competition, but two goals in the opening 18 minutes set up a very comfortable night at the VEB Arena.
“The important thing is two matches, six points and a good position in the Champions League,” said Mourinho, whose side beat Basel 3-0 in their opening game.
“Four more matches to play but we started really strongly and we are almost there.
“I think we surprised them with our attitude and we were really strong, and we killed the game. They did not look as good as they are but I think that was because of us.”
Lukaku has now scored 10 goals in nine games since joining United from Everton in the summer.
“I have to admit he is scoring really important goals almost every game,” said Mourinho.
“We know that he is a very good player, he can score lots of goals, and playing in a team surrounded by quality players it is even easier to do that.”
Four minutes in the Belgian striker headed in a cross from Martial, who went from provider to goalscorer by converting a penalty after Mkhitaryan was brought down.
And, in the city in which their third and most recent European Cup triumph came in 2008, United effectively ended the game as a contest on 26 minutes.
Aided by some dreadful defending from the home side, Lukaku slotted in his second from a couple of yards out.
Mkhitaryan added the fourth from close range and United could have scored more – Lukaku was twice denied by brilliant stops from Igor Akinfeev, who also thwarted Jesse Lingard.
Lukaku said: “I just work hard and will keep on going. The team is doing well but we must improve. I just want to win trophies.”
CSKA did have chances, with the excellent David de Gea twice saving sharply from Alan Dzagoev and tipping over a Fedor Chalov shot.
And Konstantin Kuchaev slid in a well-taken consolation late on to give the boisterous home fans something to cheer.
In the group’s other game, former Norwich striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel scored a penalty as Basel trounced 10-man Benfica 5-0.
United punish ageing backline
CSKA stalwarts Akinfeev, Sergei Ignashevich and Vasili Berezutski have played more than 1,500 club games between them and earned a total of 322 Russia caps.
But they were badly exposed by United, and the hosts have now failed to keep a clean sheet in their past 30 Champions League games. Akinfeev, meanwhile, has gone 41 straight games without a shutout.
Ignashevich looked all of his 38 years as he failed to get off the ground to meet a cross into the box and allowed Lukaku to head home at the back post.
Berezutski, three years younger than his defensive colleague, then failed to connect properly with a Daley Blind cross, and his miscue allowed Lukaku the easiest of finishes.
Between those two goals Georgi Schennikov chopped down Mkhitaryan with a senseless sliding tackle inside the box, with Martial coolly converting the spot-kick.
Referee Jonas Eriksson had initially waved play on, but then awarded the penalty on the advice of his additional assistant referee standing by the goal.
With the game won, Mkhitaryan converted into an open net after Akinfeev’s parry into the danger area from Martial’s shot.
No grey away day for United
United lined up in their grey third kit – a colour they have not worn since a Premier League trip to Southampton in April 1996.
The Saints led that game 3-0 at half-time, prompting the United players to change their shirts as they claimed they could not see each other.
Against CSKA, there were no such problems as they enjoyed another fruitful trip to eastern Europe – they are now unbeaten in six away games against Russian opposition.
Midfielder Ander Herrera, impressive for much of last season but reduced to a fringe role so far this campaign, was given a fourth start in the absence of Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick.
The Spaniard quietly went about his business, neat and tidy in possession, attempting 102 passes in the match, the same as midfield partner Nemanja Matic. Herrera also won the ball back 11 times and made three interceptions – more than any other player.
The only blemish for Mourinho will be the goal his side conceded in the 90th minute.
United looked to be on their way to a seventh clean sheet from 10 games, when 19-year-old Kuchaev struck his first goal for CSKA.
Another four-goal show from Manchester United, again looking so much more ruthless than last season, but it is difficult to assess their long-term prospects in the Champions League from this game because CSKA’s defending was so lamentably bad.
What has been proven again though is that United’s squad is very deep – they came here without the likes of Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
They also have one of the world’s best goalkeepers in David de Gea, who made two top-class saves in the first half.
They should cruise through this group and with Jose Mourinho at the helm they will be a match for most teams in knockout football.
Man of the match – Anthony Martial (Manchester United)
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho: “We started so strong, we surprised them with our attitude. They didn’t look as good as they are, because of us.
“Lukaku has a great record, we know he is a very good player who can score lots of goals. He is surrounded by quality players. I have to admit that he is scoring really important goals nearly every game. We are in a good position with four matches to play.
“We are almost there. There was not so much Playstation football tonight, just a little bit of relaxation. That is normal.”
United will be hoping to secure another big win on Saturday (kick-off 15:00 BST) when they host the Premier League’s bottom side Crystal Palace, who are yet to win a point or score a goal in the top flight this season.
Marvellous Martial – the stats
- Excluding qualifiers, this was Manchester United’s first away Champions League win since November 2013 when they won 5-0 at Bayer Leverkusen.
- Romelu Lukaku is just the second Manchester United player to score in their first two Champions League appearances for the club after Dimitar Berbatov.
- Anthony Martial has been involved in six goals in his last three Manchester United games (three goals, three assists) and has both scored and assisted in each of his last two.
- Both Manchester clubs have been 3-0 up inside the first half hour of their away Champions League matches this season – City were 3-0 up by 25 minutes against Feyenoord, while United were 3-0 up after 26 minutes.
- CSKA Moscow conceded four goals in a home European match for the first time in their entire history.
- Jose Mourinho has won his last two away Champions League matches by an aggregate score of 8-1. The other being a 4-0 win against Maccabi Tel Aviv as Chelsea boss in November 2015.