Three points were a must for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and, while he was delighted to be moving up the table, there was realism post-match about how the team must improve. They have scored just three goals in five league games at Old Trafford this term and two of those have come via Bruno Fernandes and the penalty spot.
There is a widespread acceptance from the players and coaching staff that things have got to get better and fast. One of the solutions, Solskjaer believes, is the return of Mason Greenwood.
“We need to improve - we need to get more flow and rhythm to our game, be more clinical, take our chances,” the United manager said. "We’re looking forward to having Mason back - fit again and well, so hopefully we can hit some form like we did towards the end of last season.”
It’s been a difficult few weeks for Greenwood, both on and off the pitch, with the teenager finding himself at the centre of unjustified negative media attention and failing to get the starts and goals to divert the focus back to his footballing abilities.
Solskjaer revealed the 19-year-old recently had nine days off training to recover from an illness but the positive for both the manager and the young forward is that he is back to full training and a return to the matchday squad is imminent.
Not only do United create more chances, on average, when Greenwood is in the starting XI but he can give balance to an attack that is sometimes lacking it in his absence. In the Champions League group-stage defeat to Istanbul Basaksehir the lopsided nature of United’s forward line concerned Solskjaer.
“Sometimes I felt the whole team was way too much over to the left,” he said. “We were too open down the right, too many players wanted to play football over to the other side.”
He was right. Over 51 per cent of their attacks in that game, which they lost 2-1, came down the left with only 19% coming down the right. And there is a similar theme across all games this season, which reinforces why Solskjaer was so desperate to add a natural right-sided attacker such as Jadon Sancho to his ranks in the summer.
Against Everton, another game Greenwood missed, the statistics were similar; 51% of the United attacks came down the left and 23% on the right.
When Greenwood starts, as he did against Arsenal in the league a few weeks ago, United still favour that left side but the difference between wings is not as stark. During that 1-0 defeat, for example, United’s attacks down the right were up to 31% compared to the total of 34% down the left.
Since securing his place in the first team last season, Greenwood has started 33 times, predominantly on the right wing, across all competitions. When he starts, United's average goals per game total stands at 2.1. That compares to a total of 1.7 in the 44 games he hasn't started.
United's win percentage, meanwhile, is 63% with Greenwood in the starting line-up and only 50% without him. Their average shots taken per game is around 10 with Greenwood starting and falls to 8.8 without him in the team.
His attacking contribution is undeniable, as is evidenced by his stunning opening goal in the 5-0 win against RB Leipzig last month.
However, it’s not just his own contributions that Solskjaer will be considering when debating whether or not to select the teenager. His inclusion has the potential to boost those around him mainly due to his movement.
Against West Brom at the weekend, United’s creativity was stifled due to the decision to again play two holding midfielders in Fred and Nemanja Matic. It saw Anthony Martial, who is still trying to hone his craft as a number nine, lacking in service and dropping deep to collect the ball.
Martial’s average position in the majority of games he has played this campaign has been drifting towards the left, almost on top of wide attacker Marcus Rashford, rather than through the middle. While Solskjaer is keen for his forward line to be fluid, it is one of the reasons for his side’s warped attacking shape.
Greenwood’s turn of pace, ability to take on his man and get a cross into the box gives Martial more licence - and more of an incentive - to get in the area.
He has, however, started just four times across all competitions this season and his creativity has been missed. United will be seeking to avenge that Istanbul defeat when the Turkish champions visit Old Trafford on Tuesday night.
With the fixtures piling up, the fact he is edging closer to a return can only be a huge boost for Solskjaer as he looks to build some consistency in the Champions League and on the domestic front.