United defeated Anderlecht 2-1 (3-2 on aggregate) as they advanced to the final four of the UEFA Europa League. Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s early opener was cancelled out by Anderlecht’s Sofiane Hanni, before Marcus Rashford’s winner in extra time saw United fend off the Belgian team.
United had a dream start to the tie as they drew first blood in the 10th minute through Mkhitaryan. Paul Pogba split open the Anderlecht defence with a through pass for Rashford who, after having his shot blocked, passed it towards the onrushing Micki who unleashed a perfect shot which gave the keeper no chance. Anderlecht had their goalie Ruben to thank for keeping them in the tie, as he denied Pogba and Jesse Lingard with brilliant acrobatic saves.
United were then dealt a blow as their in-form defender Marcos Rojo was stretchered off with an apparent knee injury. He had managed to stay on the field initially, but couldn’t carry after another strong challenge from Frank Acheampong. His absence in the heart of defence cost United almost immediately, as they then conceded in the 32nd minute. Youri Tielemans’ initial deflected shot hammered off the bar, but Hanni made no mistake with the rebound.
The second half was a fairly equal contest. Both teams had chances to go ahead but weren’t able to do so. United had many great chances. Pogba ballooned his shot from point-blank range after a pinpoint Mkhitaryan corner, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic failed to score when he only had the goalkeeper to beat. Anderlecht also had chances but most were either saved by Sergio Romero or were painfully close. United could have scored one of the best goals ever, when Rashford skillfully beat his marker and completed a beautiful Rabona cross to Pogba, who unleashed a powerful overhead kick which was unfortunately blocked. Ibrahimovic then suffered a nasty injury just before the beginning of extra time.
United played with a bit more flair and dominance in the extra time and created a number of dangerous chances. They got their reward in the 107th minute when Rashford managed to deceit two defenders and beat Ruben from 14 yards.
Here are the Major Talking Points from the Match-
Double Injury Blow
Even though United ultimately progressed to the final four, the night was overshadowed by the nasty injuries to Rojo and Ibrahimovic. Rojo, who has been one of United’s most consistent and dependable players this season, was stretchered off with an apparent knee injury, while Ibrahimovic, who had been woeful for most of the match, looked to have hyperextended his knee. At his age, this could potentially be a career threatening injury. The two may not feature again this season, adding to the already gruesome injury list in the most important period of the season. If Ibrahimovic decides to seek pastures new, there’s a possibility that we could’ve seen the last of him in a United shirt.
Rashford Saves the Day
Rashford had a great match yet again, and his winner in the 107th minute helped save United’s blushes. He was a nightmare for the Anderlecht defence, and would probably be grim for not having scored more. Nonetheless, he has repaid Mourinho’s trust, and with Zlatan possibly out for the rest of the season, United’s responsibility would fall heavily on the young Mancunian. He would surely be up for the task, as he has already displayed maturity beyond his years many times before.
Anderlecht Deserve Plaudits
The visiting team did a commendable job of forcing United to extra time but were unlucky to have lost. They defended with their lives on the line, and their seamless switch from defence to counter attack was a joy to watch. They looked on course to cause a heavy upset at one point of time, and it’s not easy for a team to display such a performance in such intimidating fixtures. Even though they lost, boss Rene Weiler would probably be very happy, as he couldn’t have asked more from his team.
Ruben Martinez belongs to the highest level
Ruben Martinez has had a pretty underwhelming career. He started at Barcelona, and big things were expected of him. However, he managed only two appearances in four seasons and has since wandered in the bottom half teams of La Liga. He’s on loan at Anderlecht from Deportivo. However, his time could change now. He’s had two brilliant games against United, and his athleticism would surely have captured the attention of many larger and better teams. His two saves from Pogba’s header and Lingard’ curler were simply stunning, while he even managed to thwart the likes of Rashford and Ibrahimovic on many occasions. He’s in the form of his life right now, and it is clear that he would do a decent job for any Premier League side.
Squad Rotation Not Helping United
United probably had their best match of the season when they defeated Chelsea last weekend. The way they dominated their opposition showed signs of José sticking with the retro-themed 2-2-4-2 formation. However, he rotated his squad and made five changes to the team. The most notable absentee was Ander Herrera, whose energy and urgency were clearly lacking. United were lucky to have escaped an upset due to their bench strength, but one wonders if Mourinho did the right thing by tweaking his winning side. Maybe they could’ve had an easier outing had the team been the same.
The Semi-Final draw would be made on Friday at 1200 GMT. United would wish to avoid high-flying Lyon and Ajax, and a tie against Celta Vigo could prove to be the easiest of the three.