One step closer to the Europa League final and that all important Champions League football we so desperately crave. United began the night with a 1-1 first leg advantage and strong favourites to qualify. There was a feeling of relaxed excitement around Old Trafford before the game, each fan hopeful of just getting the job done. Eventually, after a tense period of extra time thanks to United doing a fantastic job of keeping Anderlecht in the game throughout the tie, United made it to the last four. All the same, we are in the bowl for the semi-final draw and that’s all that matters.
United got off to a strong start, controlling the ball well and being comfortable in transition. Henrikh Mkhitaryan capitalised on United’s early dominance when he broke the deadlock on 10 minutes with a well-taken strike from the edge of the area after some superb build-up play from Paul Pogba and stand-out performer Marcus Rashford. The Reds continued to control the game for a short period but, Ruben Martinez, in goal for the visitors, pulled off a couple of quality saves from Jesse Lingard and Pogba to keep the Belgians in it.
Anderlecht looked threatening on the counter-attack with some quick wing play and the driving force of central midfield maestro Youri Tielemans. They equalised on 32 minutes with a very fortuitous goal when Tielemans’ deflected slot came back off the bar straight to the feet of Lukasz Teodorczyk, whose scuffed shot landed perfectly for Sofiane Hanni to smash home. It literally was as painful to watch as it sounds. The second half was controlled largely by United, but by the end of 90 minutes I had no nails left, knowing that one more fluke goal would more than likely dump United out of the competition.
Extra-time was much of the same, the only time I felt excited was when Rashford had the ball. Zlatan started and played the majority of the game and in all honesty – made the rest of the team worse. His playstyle of coming short for the ball did nothing for the team, and I won’t even talk about the amount of sitters he missed. When Rashford replaced him up front after a nasty knee injury, the defence became stretched and it allowed the midfield to pick passes out in behind the Anderlecht backline, which in turn forced them to drop deeper, allowing more space for the United midfield. When there is pace up front, it does wonders for the team – just look at the Chelsea game last Sunday!
The man of the moment took his chance in the first period of extra-time. The Reds scored a fully deserved winning goal from the left foot of Rashford, keeping his composure in the box surrounded by blue shirts. It was a dramatic tie, the kind of tie I was hoping to avoid. In his post-match press conference, Mourinho capped the night off describing how everyone in the club, and fans, felt:
“It was a difficult game, a difficult opponent, I am tired, I imagine the players are more tired than me but we are in the draw tomorrow and we still have the dream to win the competition”.
Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic suffered injuries last night and we will await further news from the United camp as to how long they will be out for.
The draw for the semi-final will have already been made by the time you read this but, United could face either Ajax, Lyon or Celta Vigo.