It was one of the least elegant bicycle-kick efforts you will ever see, but Bastian Schweinsteiger capped his comeback game with one of the most warmly-received goals in recent Old Trafford history. Manchester United had already made the game safe as they despatched Wigan Athletic 4-0 in the FA Cup fourth round, but the German still had a point to prove.
Having not started for United in 385 days, Schweinsteiger was handed his first full game under Jose Mourinho for Sunday’s tie and, while he looked sluggish at times, by the end of the game he looked like a man truly enjoying himself once more.
From training with youths to working alone with a personal trainer, it was hardly the start to the 2016-17 season the 32-year-old was expecting. Told he wasn’t needed at United, he insisted it would be his final European football experience and he would get his head down and work. It was a response which eventually paved the way for Mourinho to bring him back into the first-team picture.
His long road back to relevance was completed on Sunday with his first start since the third round of last season’s competition against Sheffield United, and it showed as the former Bayern Munich midfielder struggled in a side which more generally seemed to be lacking in energy and direction.
He was the man that finally put a spark into United’s performance, ending a patient passing move in the 44th minute with a deep cross from the right which found the head of Marouane Fellaini at the far post for the home side to grab the lead.
The best was still to come after Anthony Martial had chipped a cross for Chris Smalling to head home a second and then teed up Henrikh Mkhitaryan to kill off the game completely.
Then in the 80th minute from Wayne Rooney’s right-wing corner, Schweinsteiger pounced from six yards after Ander Herrera had headed goalwards. On an otherwise uninspiring afternoon, the crowd went home with a moment they won’t forget in a hurry. The midfielder had doubled his return for Manchester United goals and assists in a single afternoon.
This was not classic United, and it took Martial, Rooney, Schweinsteiger and Luke Shaw quite some time to get into the swing of things but beggars cannot be choosers right now. With a multitude of fixtures in four different competitions coming up, Mourinho will be treasuring results over performances like never before.
Still, that is further good news for the likes of Schweinsteiger and Shaw. With seven fixtures to come in February, Mourinho will need the deepest squad he can muster. And to that end the German should have a future of sorts in the United side if he has the resolve to turn down a move away for a second straight transfer window.