Odion Ighalo has promised to help Manchester United step into a brighter future after admitting the post-Alex Ferguson problems have left him "angry".

The striker, a deadline-day loan signing from Shanghai Shenhua last month, scored his first goal for the Red Devils on his full debut in Thursday's 5-0 Europa League thrashing of Club Brugge at Old Trafford.

A boyhood United fan, Ighalo described it as a "dream come true" to find the net in front of supporters who have quickly taken to a player signed as emergency cover in attack.

Ighalo has watched United go nearly seven years without winning the Premier League since Ferguson retired in 2013, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side are alarmingly adrift of rivals Liverpool and Manchester City in this season's title race and facing a battle even to secure Champions League football for next term.

Ighalo has found it difficult to endure United's relative struggles from afar and is now determined to help them return to the top, even if his loan deal, which runs until the end of this season, does not turn into a longer-term arrangement.

"It feels great, at Old Trafford, hearing the fans singing my name. I'm very grateful for this moment. It's a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life," he said after his goal helped secure a 6-1 aggregate win in the last 32.

"The fans see me as one of their own because I came to this team because I want to play and because I supported them since I was young, and I want to do my best to help the team to move forward. They appreciate that and I appreciate them. From the first day I set foot in Manchester, they have been behind me. I promise them I'm going to give my best: win, lose… I don't care about the circumstances. I'll keep giving my best.

"There is transition in life in everything you're doing. It's difficult sometimes when the team is losing games; as a fan, you get angry. Now, in the club, I have to give my best to make sure we are winning and getting results. Some games, it's going to be difficult because other teams are spending more money in the Premier League and in Europe, so it will be more difficult, but this team has young players and, working this way, I think we have a better future."

Ighalo admits he is short of 100 per cent fitness, with his last appearance in China coming on December 6, but he is eager to impress his manager after admiring him as a player.

"I watched him when I was young," Ighalo said. "I watched quite a lot of them: Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Ole, Teddy Sheringham. Playing for him now is great for me. I'm very happy.

"I'm just one of the team. We have to work together. I'm here to contribute.

"I'm getting better. The league is faster, sharper, I need more strength. I'm getting better every day but I'm not 100 per cent fit."

United managing director Richard Arnold boasted in an investor call that the signing of Ighalo was the top trend worldwide on Twitter, overshadowing Brexit and Donald Trump, and Ighalo expects to have received plenty of messages after his display against Brugge.

"I'm happy because I know a lot of supporters on social media were waiting for this moment, for me to get my first goal," he said. "I've not seen my phone yet but I know messages have been coming in, so I will thank everyone. Now, the work starts again. I have to keep pushing."

Ighalo celebrated his goal by paying tribute to his sister, who passed away a little over a month before his move to Old Trafford was finalised.

"I lost my sister in December," he added. "She's a Man United fan. I prayed for this moment but unfortunately she's not here to see me doing that. I promised I'd dedicate it to her if I scored and I'm happy I did that. Wherever she is, she's happy."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has vowed Manchester United will never stoop as low as they did in last season's 4-0 loss to Everton.

The Norwegian described that result in April as "the lowest I've been", conceding the Goodison Park thrashing constituted a capitulation. 

United head back to Merseyside on Sunday seeking to extend a seven-game unbeaten run in all competitions and Solskjaer wants to lay the ghosts of their last visit to rest.

"That was the lowest I've been, I think you all know that and remember that. That was just a capitulation," he said, having overseen a 5-0 Europa League defeat of Club Brugge on Thursday.

"We had absolutely nothing about us, even though all the goals were more or less counter-attacks from set-plays or long throw-ins; everything you didn't want to see you saw in that game.

"Everton at home are hard to play against, with the two up front, they put the players in the box, so we knew what we were up against. I'm 100 per cent sure we'll put a better performance up."

Solskjaer revealed that match was the final straw for him, with some players' fates decided across that abysmal 90 minutes.

He now believes he has the foundations in place to avoid a repeat.

"I knew probably before then [changes had to be made] but one or two had their last chance more or less, but we had to get to the summer first," he said.

"I can, with hand on heart, 100 per cent say that these boys will never give in, never give up like that team did.

"These are the boys we want to build the next team around."

Bruno Fernandes has provided Manchester United with a big boost but "one or two pieces" are needed for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team to be where he wants it.

Having failed to reach a deal with Sporting CP in the close season, United finally snapped up Fernandes in January in a transfer that could cost up to £67.6million (€80m).

The Portugal international has scored two goals and set up another pair in his five appearances since arriving at Old Trafford.

Solskjaer has no doubt Fernandes has provided United with something they were lacking, but he feels further additions are needed to get his team up to the standard he expects.

"We knew when we made the decisions we made in the summer it was going to take time and Rome, as I've said a few times, wasn't built in a day," said Solskjaer ahead of Sunday's trip to Everton.

"But the culture, the attitude, the fitness, the camaraderie, the team spirit, maybe even the understanding between players, have improved.

"We have missed that box-opener that Bruno is proving to be now. There was one or two pieces missing and we still know we're missing one or two pieces to be where we want to be. But it's a work in progress.

"Kieran [McKenna], Michael [Carrick] fantastic on the training ground I have to say, the coaching, and the boys are willing to learn. And now we've got more and more fit players as well."

Solskjaer has been impressed by the attitude displayed by Fernandes, who was on target from the penalty spot in a 5-0 win over Club Brugge on Thursday that sent United into the last 16 of the Europa League.

"When I send him in or when I take him off – obviously he didn't want to come off [against Brugge], that's one thing. He just loves football, he's got so much enthusiasm and has a smile about him, he wants to be out there and wants to be better," said the manager.

"I tried to send him in because it was cold and [he said,] 'Oh, no, no. I want to watch.' He just loves football, he'll probably know everything about football and is just one of these old-school boys that football is everything for him. He's been a big, big boost for us."

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes his players demonstrated signs of their ongoing improvement after an emphatic Europa League victory over Club Brugge.

The Red Devils booked their place in the last 16 of the competition with a 5-0 second-leg win over 10-man Brugge at Old Trafford to progress 6-1 on aggregate.

A Fred brace and goals from Bruno Fernandes, Odion Ighalo and Scott McTominay inspired United on Thursday, although Brugge played most of the game with 10 men after Simon Deli was sent off for deliberate handball.

Nevertheless, Solskjaer was pleased to see United head into Friday's draw on the back of a comprehensive victory with several impressive individual displays.

"I think there are loads of players out there who have improved," Solskjaer said in his post-match media conference after United extended their unbeaten run to seven matches across all competitions.

"Scott McTominay is back and I think he’s improved. Fred, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be alive for the next time he was going to score! 

"Fred's had so many attempts. One with his right and one with his left. It’s been an on-going joke between us, of course, but he got those goals and I’m very pleased for him.

"Obviously, we're in a moment now that we rotate a bit, players are getting games. But when you score goals and you play like this, you're going to get more confidence.

"When we got 1-0 and they had a man sent off it helps, but you're still playing against players in and around the box, our imagination there was good."

Solskjaer praised the willingness of Ighalo after the Nigeria striker – on loan from Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua – scored his first goal for United on his full debut.

He added: "I think, as a fellow striker myself, I know important that first goal is and he’s been close a couple of times. 

"You can see he sniffs goals, he wants to be there, where it sometimes hurts. 

"That goal, he was sharp in his head and, as that ball is played over to Juan, he spins and was on the six-yard line when Juan puts it there. That’s a natural striker."

Brugge goalkeeper Simon Mignolet said Deli's sending off made United's task significantly less taxing.

"United deserved to go through," he said. "It was a little easier for them after the red card, but we can have no complaints with the result."

Emotional Odion Ighalo said he fulfilled a lifetime dream after the boyhood Manchester United fan marked his full debut with a goal, even though it was tinged with sadness

Ighalo scored United's second goal in a 5-0 Europa League second-leg round-of-32 win over 10-man Club Brugge at Old Trafford on Thursday.

The 30-year-old Nigeria striker celebrated by lifting up his United shirt to reveal a t-shirt which paid tribute to his sister Mary, who died in December.

Ighalo had taken a pay cut to secure a shock deadline-day loan move to United from Chinese Super League club Shanghai Shenhua.

He told BT Sport: "It's a big dream for me, yes. A great moment.

"I have been waiting for this, played three games, though I didn't play much and no goals.

"There has been a little bit of pressure, but now I got a goal to start my Manchester United goal career and it is a team I have supported since I was young, so it is very good. 

"I am very happy and I am grateful to God."

Ighalo netted with a close-range finish from Juan Mata's cutback after Bruno Fernandes had scored from the penalty spot.

Scott McTominay gave United a 3-0 half-time lead before midfield colleague Fred put a gloss on the result with two late goals.

Ighalo added: "The confidence was high and we spoke about that before the start. We pushed from the first minute and went all out playing our style.

"The red card was difficult for them with us attacking, and we worked hard until the last minute."

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer praised Ighalo's penalty-box prowess post-game.

"He does exactly what it says on the tin," he said. "He plays up front, he can play with his back to goal and the goal was a good example of what you want of him. He can hold up the ball and he is what we have been lacking a little bit.

"If we hadn't had Odion tonight then Mason Greenwood would have had to play and we have a game on Sunday and that would put us in a tired position. We knew what we got when we signed him."

United are now unbeaten in seven games in all competitions and Solskjaer believes Ighalo and fellow new boy Fernandes have helped boost confidence in the dressing room.

He added: "Today we played attacking football and players combined well. The players had a swagger, confidence and a smile on their faces. The new lads have brought that."

Odion Ighalo marked his full Manchester United debut with his first goal for the club as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side swaggered into the last 16 of the Europa League with a 5-0 second-leg win against Club Brugge at Old Trafford.

January loan signing Ighalo came into the side in place of the injured Anthony Martial on Thursday, and the new striker grabbed the second goal in a dominant display against 10 men.

Bruno Fernandes had put United ahead from the penalty spot following a deliberate handball from Brugge defender Simon Deli, who was sent off, dealing a mighty blow to their hopes of building on a 1-1 home draw.

Ighalo netted soon afterwards, before Scott McTominay - in the starting XI for the first time since December - got in on the act. There was time for an unlikely late Fred brace, too, as United coasted through.

Brugge goalkeeper Simon Mignolet made fine early saves from Juan Mata and Fernandes in a portent of what was to come.

United were awarded a penalty when defender Deli dived to his left and turned a Daniel James shot past the post with his hand, although referee Serdar Gozubuyuk observed a lengthy VAR check before confirming the red card as Mignolet appeared poise to make a stop behind his team-mate.

Despite the wait, Fernandes kept his composure and confidently sent Mignolet the wrong way with a low spot-kick following a trademark stuttered run-up.

Fernandes was instrumental in United's second as he teased the Brugge defence and clipped a clever pass towards Mata, who crossed low for Nigeria striker Ighalo to bundle in.

The Portugal midfielder then won possession in the left corner before Fred teed up McTominay to drive home the third from the edge of the area.

Luke Shaw and Mason Greenwood both went close after the break, before Fred belatedly extended the lead with eight minutes remaining as he tapped in Jesse Lingard's cutback.

The Brazilian improbably then got a fifth with the final kick of the match, placing a left-footed shot past Mignolet to cap a fine United outing.
 

What does it mean? United breeze into last 16

United desperately want a return to the Champions League next season. They trail fourth-placed Chelsea in the Premier League by three points, but winning the Europa League provides another route into the continent's premier club competition. On this form, with Fernandes pulling the strings, they look a threat for any potential opponent in Friday's last-16 draw.

Fabulous Fernandes provides finesse

"Bruno, Bruno," chanted the United fans as Fernandes was substituted in the second half following a heavyweight display. His craft and guile provided the X-Factor that Solskjaer claimed the player would bring to United. His signing looks to have brought some much-needed impetus to the Red Devils.

Daft Deli decision decisive

Quite what was going through Deli's mind when he saw James line up a shot, only he will know. A burning desire to showcase his goalkeeping skills, perhaps? His moment of madness and dismissal completely changed the tone of the tie, setting up an easy day for the home side.

What's next?

United return to Premier League action on Sunday with a trip to Everton, while Brugge will look to bounce back against Genk.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has revealed he is not sure how long Anthony Martial will be out for after the Manchester United forward suffered an injury in training.

Martial has scored 15 goals in all competitions this season, with three of those coming in United's past three matches.

However, the 24-year-old was not included in Solskjaer's side to face Club Brugge – against whom Martial netted in a 1-1 away draw last week – in the second leg of United's Europa League last-32 tie at Old Trafford on Thursday.

January loan signing Odion Ighalo instead came in for his full debut.

Solskjaer subsequently confirmed Martial had sustained an injury during a training session on Wednesday, and United's manager was unsure of the severity of the Frenchman's issue.

"He didn't feel right after the training yesterday or [rather] he walked off during training and he's injured," Solskjaer told MUTV.

"So, hopefully it won't be too bad, but I don't really know yet how long he'll be out."

Martial's form has coincided with an upturn in results for United, who sit fifth in the Premier League and visit Everton on Sunday.

The club are still without Paul Pogba, whose future remains in doubt, and Marcus Rashford.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is "doing a good job" at Old Trafford, according to club great David Beckham.

Solskjaer – in his first full season at the helm having initially replaced Jose Mourinho on an interim basis in December 2018 – has overseen a topsy-turvy campaign, with United languishing fifth in the Premier League.

United have beaten Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Leicester City this season, and drawn with runaway leaders Liverpool, but the Red Devils are still three points adrift of the Champions League places.

Despite United's struggles, Beckham – who played alongside Solskjaer at the Theatre of Dreams – praised the Norwegian boss.

"I think he's doing a good job," Beckham told Sky Sports. "The fact that he's stepped in and stepped up, and that he continues to be positive about players, he's got that from the boss [Alex Ferguson]. He would never criticise a player from his club and Ole has been exactly the same.

"He's still learning but he will protect his players and protect Manchester United. All of the fans will be behind him because he's a great person and because of what he's done for Manchester United over the years."

United have struggled since Alex Ferguson retired after guiding the club to Premier League glory in 2012-13.

Only twice have United finished in the top four – in 2015 and 2018 – following Ferguson's exit as David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho have come and gone.

Bitter rivals Liverpool are 22 points clear atop the table and 38 ahead of United as they close in on their first league crown since 1990 and Beckham – now co-owner of MLS expansion side Inter Miami – said: "I think when you're a club as big as Manchester United and you've had the amount of success that we had, there was always going to be a period where other clubs have some success.

"When that success is being had by Manchester City or Liverpool it's always going to be talked about. There was always going to be a transition period, especially when Alex Ferguson stepped down.

"You had David Gill working at the club too and the players stopped playing, Giggsy [Ryan Giggs], Scholesy [Paul Scholes] and the Nevs [Gary and Phil Neville], they all stopped playing so there was always going to be a period when they weren't as successful.

"Is it hard to watch them now? No because I'm a real Manchester United fan and whatever the situation, I love watching them play. But let's hope it doesn't last for too much longer that we go without trophies because we are one of the biggest clubs in the world and not many clubs have that tradition."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has conceded Manchester United could begin to suffer financially if they fail to qualify for next season's Champions League.

United missed out on this term's Champions League, instead progressing into the Europa League, with the Red Devils hosting Club Brugge at Old Trafford in the second leg of their last-32 tie on Thursday.

On Tuesday, the club released their latest financial figures, with revenue in the six months to December falling by nearly 12 per cent as a result of their absence from the Champions League. 

Following an upturn in form, Solskjaer's side have risen to fifth in the Premier League, three points behind fourth-placed Chelsea.

Though fifth place may be enough to ensure qualification for Europe's elite club competition - depending on Manchester City's appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over their two-year suspension from European competition - Solskjaer knows pushing for a top-four finish has to be a priority.

United's manager acknowledged the club must find a way back into Europe's top tier if they are to maintain their financial clout.

"We're a big club and we've got good finances but the longer you're out the more you suffer, so it's an ambition to get back into the Champions League," Solskjaer told a news conference.

"For footballing reasons and financially it will help the club. We've got to focus on this competition, then the league on Sunday and then FA Cup.

"I think we need to take one game at a time. Both [routes into the Champions League through the Europa League and Premier League] are possible. In a cup competition, you never know. It might be a bad day.

"You can't rely on winning this. There are some good teams in it and we need to get past Brugge. We're looking forward to the game."

United head into Thursday's encounter with the Belgian side having drawn 1-1 away from home in the first leg.

Bruno Fernandes has added a new dimension to Manchester United's play, according to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who believes the Portugal international provides an "X-factor".

Fernandes – a long-term target for United – arrived late in the January transfer window from Sporting CP in a deal worth £46.5million (€55m) up front and up to £21.1m (€25m) in add-ons.

Since signing, Fernandes has made three Premier League starts, netting his maiden United goal in a 3-0 victory over Watford at Old Trafford on Sunday.

The 25-year-old's impact has delighted Solskjaer, who has previously compared the playmaker to former United players Paul Scholes and Juan Sebastian Veron.

"We feel we've added some X-factor quality with Bruno," Solskjaer told a news conference ahead of United's Europa League clash with Club Brugge on Thursday.

"Scott [McTominay] has developed, Nemanja [Matic] and Fred have done well. The addition of Bruno gives us a bit of a different flavour.

"He likes to play forward passes and take risks, which a Man United player should do.

"His imagination and his overview of the picture is a couple of seconds ahead of many players. It is one of his strengths that he knows what he wants to do. He can change his mind in a split-second. That composure has been important.

"I think Bruno will only improve by coming here to a stronger league, stronger opponents and stronger team-mates, getting used to us.

"We want to develop that X-factor. He's come in and impressed everyone but we don't want to put a limit on what he can do."

While United are still without Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial is hitting form after missing a chunk of the season through injury, and results have started to pick up for the Red Devils, who are unbeaten in six matches across all competitions and sit fifth in the Premier League.

However, Solskjaer insists the hard work has only just begun as his side push to qualify for next season's Champions League.

"You need many many attributes to play the perfect game or be the perfect team," Solskjaer added.

"We want the swagger, the confidence, to believe in ourselves, but you still want your players to be humble.

"I want my team to be one of the hardest working teams in the league. But that's not an attitude thing. That's what you're supposed to do. 

"You can blossom more with confidence, and speaking to the manager, getting them free. You want them to be free. Play with courage, bravery and you want bit of fear in you. It is a fine balance between arrogance, confidence and being humble.

"The squad has coped really well with that amount of games. I've said that the character and personality of them is improving, and December and January were really hard months.

"Now we're getting players back and we're looking sharp."

Luke Shaw says you must be prepared to take criticism at Manchester United after he was asked about his mixed form this season.

Ahead of United's Europa League last-32 second-leg clash with Club Brugge at Old Trafford on Thursday, Shaw accepted he still has much to work on.

But at the age of 24, the defender feels like he still has plenty of room to grow and revealed how he blocks out most of the critiques about his performances.

"I'm still quite young and I've got a lot to improve on," Shaw told reporters. "I want to improve as a player day in, day out, and keep working hard.

"I don't need to pay too much attention to what people say in the media, it's sometimes good and sometimes bad. So, I've got to focus on myself and the people that matter.

"I've had a lot of stick and if you come to Manchester United you need to take that.

"People are always ready to criticise you. It is completely different to other clubs and everyone knows when you sign that piece of paper how different it is going to be.

"You have to be able to deal with it. If you are not strong mentally and confident you will struggle to deal with it.

"There are only high standards here, so we need to be strong. I'm feeling really good and can't wait to get back out on the pitch."

Appearing alongside manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who joked Shaw had now become "dad" to emerging young full-back Brandon Williams, the England international is enjoying competition on the left side of defence.

Shaw said: "I have to be [a senior player now]! Me and Brandon play in the same position but a few times we've played together and I've enjoyed it.

"Although we are both in the same position and we want to be playing, I want to help him and push him to be a great player that he can be.

"We'll keep pushing each other in training, he's pushed me more than I have been in the past. It's good for the boss to have that competition for places."

Shaw was injured when United beat Ajax to secure Europa League glory in 2017 but the occasion gave him a taste of continental success, with his side one of the favourites to win this year's competition.

"It is a massive ambition for me," he said, with the Brugge tie sitting level at 1-1.

"I was there for the Europa League final, and the feeling, even though I wasn't on the pitch, was a feeling I have not felt and I wanted more of. I wasn't involved and that is what is pushing me on even more to get into this final."

Robin van Persie has encouraged Paul Pogba and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to clarify their plans for Manchester United with a joint interview.

Questions over Pogba's future have been a troublesome undercurrent to an inconsistent season for United and Solskjaer.

The midfielder has been persistently linked with a return to Juventus or a move to Real Madrid, while agent Mino Raiola has encouraged the speculation with comments in the press suggesting a move would be in the player's best interests.

Matters reached a head when Raiola launched a social media tirade against Solskjaer after being criticised by the United manager, although he later moved to reduce tensions by offering to "reach out" to the Norwegian and suggesting Pogba could sign a new contract.

Pogba's injury problems have not helped the uncertainty over his plans – the France star has played only eight times in all competitions this season due to ankle problems, and Solskjaer stated last week that he was "nowhere near" a return.

Former United star Van Persie thinks Pogba's prolonged absence has only exacerbated the rumours about whether he will stay at the club, and he wants the player to go public to make his clear whether he is happy at Old Trafford.

The ex-Netherlands forward also thinks Pogba should state what he considers to be his best position, as Van Persie believes there has been unjust criticism of the 26-year-old, who has played in different midfield roles since returning to United in 2016.

"It's very difficult. With Pogba, it's an interesting situation," Van Persie, speaking courtesy of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, told Stats Perform.

"Pogba, in my opinion, is a world-class player, he has proven it over the years. He has it all.

"But first, I think with him, and that's after a couple of years now, I think he should come out and he should say what his favourite position is. If that's done, then people can judge him based on this position. Now, I don't think people really know if he's a six, if he's a number 10... that's a big difference.

"I have the feeling people judge him a bit unfairly. They expect 20 goals, they expect 20 assists, they expect Pogba to make Manchester United champions. But, is he a six? If he's a six, then you cannot expect 20 goals. If he's a 10, maybe 12 to 15 goals. So, it's not really fair on him because it's not really clear.

"Then, you have the second subject: is he happy there? There's constantly rumours, you have the agent constantly giving interviews, you have the coach answering questions almost every day, every week. There's a lot going on beside the main event, and the most important thing is football.

"I know how it works, especially if you're injured. People can't judge you on your game, so they start to talk about other things.

"I think for Pogba, and Manchester, it would be best to… I don't know, do an interview together or something, together with the coach, and just say, 'Listen: this is what I want, this is where I would like to play – judge me on that. I'm happy, or I'm not happy, or whatever'. Now, it's a lot of questions going around."

United face Club Brugge in the Europa League last-32 second leg at Old Trafford on Thursday, having drawn 1-1 in the first leg.

Manchester United's squad rebuild will continue with an emphasis on academy products and "world-class recruits", and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at the wheel, according to executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.

United announced their second quarter fiscal results for 2020 on Tuesday, with much of the focus on a 17 per cent fall in operating profits to £36.5million, a seven per cent increase in commercial revenues and the club's net debt inflating by 23 per cent.

But Woodward, speaking on a conference call with investors, highlighted the club's commitment to replenishing the squad.

United added Bruno Fernandes to the team in January, with the Portugal international making a solid early impact, and Woodward outlined the club's plans to continue adding ready-made "world-class" players and highly rated academy products to Solskjaer's squad.

In a statement to investors, Woodward said: "Now, I want to provide an overview of progress towards our number one priority - winning trophies with a team playing entertaining, attacking football.

"Since our last call in November we have progressed to the knockout stages of the Europa League; we are through to the fifth round in the FA Cup, and we remain in the mix to qualify for the Champions League.

"This season is one of rebuild, with many changes to the squad - in terms of players who have left or gone out on loan; new players who we have brought into the club; and academy graduates that we have brought through to the first team. This process will continue as we implement our plan and our footballing vision under Ole and his coaching staff.

"Despite being linked in the media to 111 players in January, our acquisition of just one of them - Bruno Fernandes - is an important step in that direction, demonstrating our commitment to adding experienced, world-class recruits to the exciting crop of academy graduates that are at the heart of this developing team. We will take the same planned, disciplined, approach this coming summer.

"In addition to the first team signings, somewhat under the radar, we have also made a number of exciting youth acquisitions in the past year, reflecting our commitment to bringing the best talent into our academy.

"So far our academy graduates have contributed over a third of first team playing minutes this season and over half of our goals, emphasising our academy's status as one of the most productive in elite-level European football.

"This is an important competitive advantage for us and represents an excellent return on the fourfold increase in investment that we have made in the academy over recent years."

Fittingly, shortly before Woodward's call, United announced new contracts for Under-23 goalkeeper Paul Woolston and 18-year-old full-back Ethan Laird, the latter of whom featured for the first-team in two Europa League group matches earlier this season.

Bruno Fernandes' performance in Manchester United's 3-0 victory over Watford drew comparisons with Paul Scholes and Juan Sebastian Veron, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer underlined the Portugal international's quality.

Solskjaer recalled Veron's ability to thread long-range passes and Scholes' technique after Fernandes scored United's opening goal and had a hand in strikes from Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood.

The victory was Fernandes' first at Old Trafford following his transfer from Sporting CP, and Solskjaer said his displays since joining the club had eased the attacking-midfield problems within the squad.

"In today's market I think we got a good deal," Solskjaer told reporters. "He has come in, done really well and given everyone a boost.

"It means more than just getting a player in. You can see the supporters are used to players with that personality, mentality and quality. He's been a big plus.

"From day one and, first minute, [he] felt like a presence in the group. First training session, demanding the ball. Some players take some time in warming up, but he felt confident straight away.

"It is a bit of a mix between Scholes and Veron. To be fair, he's got the temperament of Veron and a lot of the quality of Scholesy. He is a box-to-box midfielder. He can do everything a midfielder can do, similar to Veron and Scholes.

"One of the good things about him is he risks the ball like Veron did. I used to love playing with Seba [Veron] because you could make runs and you'll get the ball. And if he doesn't hit you, at least he's looking for you."

Midfield creativity has been an issue for Solskjaer this season, particularly due to Paul Pogba's lengthy injury lay-off and Jesse Lingard's struggle for form.

The United boss said Fernandes would not be limited to the advanced role behind the forwards, but indicated the club had recruited a key figure in his plans for the future.

"He is here now and he is one of the pieces that we are trying to put together," said Solskjaer. "He is a big piece in it and an important piece, because we are getting towards the business end of the field.

"We have spent with Harry [Maguire] and Aaron [Wan-Bissaka], who have done fantastically, and now we have got this number 10 or attacking midfield role nailed down. Hopefully he'll keep fit and keep producing performances.

"Some games he will play in a two, some games as an attacking midfielder, some games as a 10. He has played every position in midfield.

"He is going to be a very important part and is coming in to be a very important player for us because we've needed that type of player."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said the arrival of Bruno Fernandes at Manchester United has "given everyone a boost" after the midfielder scored his first goal for the club in a 3-0 victory over Watford at Old Trafford.

Fernandes was outstanding throughout on Sunday as United clinched a second consecutive victory in a run of three unbeaten Premier League matches and moved them up to fifth in the table.

After scoring from the penalty spot to give United the lead, Fernandes created the opening for Anthony Martial to score their second and got the assist that teed up Mason Greenwood for a stunning third.

Solskjaer later paid tribute to the 25-year-old's pace and his uplifting effect on the Red Devils squad after he followed up an impressive outing in Monday's 2-0 win over Chelsea.

"Bruno Fernandes is quicker than he looks," the United manager told BBC Sport.

"[We're] very excited by having him in. He has come in, given everyone a boost and wants to conduct a game."

Solskjaer continued: "[Bruno] loves playing football, he wants the ball, he's got the personality and character to demand it all the time, wanting to take the penalty.

"He takes it the way he does to show he is a Man United character, not just a very, very good footballer."

"[It was] a very good win, two good wins and two clean sheets, some goals to celebrate. Now, we want to kick on," added Solskjaer, whose side entertain Club Brugge in the Europa League on Thursday ahead of their trip to Everton in the Premier League three days later.

"There are big games coming up now."

United defender Luke Shaw said the victory had given his team-mates hope of catching Chelsea and qualifying for next season's Champions League.

Chelsea are fourth in the table, three points clear of United, after following up their loss to the Red Devils with a 2-1 victory over Tottenham.

Shaw told Sky Sports: "We got what we needed and that was three points. Let's keep pushing.

"The most important thing is we closed the gap to Chelsea.

"This club is known for playing in the big competitions. We all miss the Champions League nights so much – that is what we want next season.

"We need to fight and earn it."

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