Fireworks ignited outside the closed Linzer Stadion marked the beginning of a last-16 tie that may not be completed next week due to coronavirus.
The disease is causing more and more sport to be suspended so when Manchester United will hope to seal passage to the quarter-finals is unclear. Here, though, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side did what was needed, turning in a professional performance, cruising to victory before the smattering of Lask fans allowed entry and whose side did pose an occasional threat despite operating on a budget roughly analogous to a League Two team.
The win also takes United to 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions, which equals the best ever under the Norwegian, the previous run coming at the very start of his incumbency. Solskjær chose Odion Ighalo to start in place of the injured Anthony Martial, the centre-forward one of five changes from Sunday’s win over Manchester City, the other notable selection being Sergio Romero for David de Gea in goal.
Lask, whose sole championship was 55 years ago, are Austrian Bundesliga leaders, and were knocked out early in Champions League qualifying by Club Brugge, eliminated by United 6-1 on aggregate in the previous round of this competition.
Solskjær repeated in the build-up to this match how his players were focused yet an atmosphere where all could be heard did require adjustment. Bruno Fernandes, as has done since joining, led the way. When trotting forward with the ball during the early exchanges he decided against a shot, instead teeing up Fred. The Brazilian took aim but could only blaze over. The next act by Fernandes was a slick flick that had him pirouetting around an opponent and aiming a ball left, the net result a free-kick. It yielded nothing and when Lask moved forward the visitors were turned for a first time.
Klauss sprinted in behind Harry Maguire along the right and the captain did well to recover though when the home No 9 went down there was relief that Artur Dias, the referee, ignored the penalty shouts. Despite this United were in control. A quick move featured Brandon Williams to Ighalo down the right but the latter’s cross was miskicked by Juan Mata from close to the penalty spot. Fernandes collected and fed Luke Shaw and when he put the ball in this time Mata’s effort drew a corner. Fernandes took it but Scott McTominay could not direct the header on target.
Lask were given no time to breathe, as, quickly after, Ighalo unleashed a shot from outside the area. Again the direction was awry but United were warming up. The faster passing play that Fernandes has ignited since his winter arrival was behind a Daniel James snapshot that the goalkeeper Alexander Schlager saved well to his left.
When Ighalo was signed on loan in January there was derision in some quarters. These naysayers had already been silenced by the Nigerian’s three goals in seven appearances but the fourth he scored on Thursday night suggested his arrival may prove to be a minor masterstroke. The ball came to him at pace on the edge of the area but, following a three-touch juggle, he hammered in off the bar to leave Schlager with no chance.
The home support nearly had an equaliser to cheer when the ball broke to Dominik Frieser near Sergio Romero’s goal. The forward’s attempt looked to be heading in only for Eric Bailly to stick a boot out and make the block.
A half given noise by the few supporters in the arena closed with United still in the ascendancy. Another pinpoint Fernandes corner deserved a better header from Maguire but he diverted it as wide as McTominay had earlier. But, really, Solskjær’s half-time chat seemed simple: to tell his side to sharpen up in front of goal as the second period began so as to make the contest comfortable.
First up, though, was a Lask free-kick after Shaw was booked for felling Dominik Reiter. Peter Michorl took it but United’s wall did its job. Valérien Ismaël may have ordered his team to press, as this is what they did, but United’s class allowed them to roll the ball around Lask until Shaw was in position down the left. He found Mata but the No 8’s first-time effort sailed over.
A extra dimension that Ighalo offers is the outlet ball and the way he controlled a high pass and twisted and turned before spraying possession wide to Williams was a fine illustration. Next he turned creator, helping James to break a six-month drought by finding the Welshman, the latter’s long-range strike was his fourth goal of the season. Moments later, Ighalo might have registered a fifth since joining United only for the right post to deny him – Fernandes’s vision again releasing the striker.
In the closing exchanges United did an accomplished job of containing Lask. Then, Mata’s late third, then even later finishes from Mason Greenwood and Andreas Pereira completed a satisfying early evening in Austria’s third city but what happens next for United in the Europa League is unclear. This may be their last action for a while.