Manchester United progressed to the semifinals of the UEFA Europa League with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Anderlecht at Old Trafford on Thursday.
Manchester United got one step closer to winning their second title of the season, as they triumphed over Anderlecht 2-1 in a closely contested affair in the second leg of their quarterfinal tie at Old Trafford on Thursday.
The two teams came into the match with the tie evenly poised with an aggregate scoreline of 1-1. And, it looked like Henrikh Mkhitaryan had set Jose Mourinho’s men on their way, as he scored just ten minutes into the match with a lowly drilled shot.
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) April 20, 2017
However, things were back on level terms in the tie just after the half hour mark as Anderlecht captain Sofiane Hanni restored parity with a cool finish past Sergio Romero in a scrambling sequence. Manchester United dominated the proceedings thereafter but without little fruit as the match ended all squad in regulation time.
With everything up for grabs in extra time, Manchester United set on in search of the elusive winner and deservedly got that when Marcus Rashford slotted the ball home just minutes into the second half. With the Red Devils safely through to the penultimate stage of the competition, here are some of the major talking points from the match.
Wastefuleness – The Story Of The Season Continues For Manchester United
Manchester United have been a much changed side under Jose Mourinho, slowly shedding the tag of being a goal-shy team. The key factor to a huge lack of goals from the Dutchman’s side was attributed to a severity in chance creation.
Man Utd 2-1 (3-2 on agg.) Anderlecht FT (AET):
Pass accuracy: 84%-76%
Chances created: 17-11
Marcus Rashford to the rescue. pic.twitter.com/BwWtYOXBVw
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 20, 2017
Jose Mourinho has addressed that issue with some aplomb upon his arrival at Old Trafford. But, Manchester United are still some way of shedding the aforementioned tag. That is not out of an unwillingness to try though, as the Red Devils rank among the top teams in terms of chance creation.
However, a big Achilles heel in Manchester United’s pursuits of their objectives has been their wastefulness in front of goal, often failing to finish off even the easiest of chances. The poor conversion rate has been underpinned as the biggest reason why Manchester United find themselves where they are in the Premier League.
And those troubles surfaced again on Thursday, as Manchester United took 22 shots to score their 2 goals. Each of their attackers were guilty of spurning clear cut chances away, and it was only Anderlecht’s own wastefulness at the other end that saved Jose Mourinho’s men the blushes on Thursday and let the Portuguese heave a huge sigh of relief at final whistle.
Anderlecht Give Manchester United A Run For Their Money
One thing was clear right from the off, Anderlecht were not in Manchester to just make up the numbers. In fact, they were very much in it to win it as they made it a point to take any and every chance that came their way, even as Manchester United commanded the bulk of the possession.
Manchester United are through to the Europa League semi-finals! It really wasn’t pretty, but they eventually got the job done. Bloody hell.
— Liam Canning (@LiamPaulCanning) April 20, 2017
Playing a fearless brand of football, the Belgian club took the game to their more illustrious hosts, looking to pass between the lines by exploiting the vulnerabilities in the Manchester United defence.
Rene Weiler’s men, in fact, created a whole host of chances throughout the match, and their inability to put the finishing touches to their innumerable moves during the 120 minutes was their undoing in the end.
Having said that, Anderlecht showed just why they reached the Last 8 stage of the Europa League as they managed to stand toe to toe with a team that had been labelled as the heavy favourites heading into the tie.
Victory… But At What Cost?
The win didn’t come easy for Manchester United as they were stretched till as far as extra time in order to earn their ticket to the semifinals of the Europa League. The fixture pileup will almost certainly result in key players being fatigued but they have to give their all in order to reach the Champions League next season.
— FPL (@OfficialFPL) April 21, 2017
Jose Mourinho’s men certainly gave their all on the pitch to earn a hard-fought victory, but that win came at a huge cost for him. That’s because the Manchester United boss lost two key men to injuries on the night from what look like in their early stages two long-term injuries.
Marcos Rojo had to be stretchered off the field after sustaining a knee injury from an unfortunate clash with Alexandru Chipciu in the first half. Things went from bad to worse as Manchester United talisman, Zlatan Ibrahimovic suffered a knee injury of his own after landing awkwardly on it in the dying moments of regulation time.
Mourinho’s squad has already been stretched to its very limits with the Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney already on the treatment table. The addition of Rojo and Ibrahimovic only makes things worse for a side that will be playing a game every three days on average till the end of the season, with worrying signs of fatigue and burnout looming large.
Marcus Rashford Comes Up With The Rescue Act
There weren’t a lot of positives to boast about Louis van Gaal’s tenure with Manchester United, but his biggest success story is set to positively influence Manchester United’s future for years to come. Marcus Rashford was thrust onto the scene when the Dutchman’s squad was running on flimsy legs.
Marcus Rashford: the Future pic.twitter.com/ZPCHK5Wf4A
— B/R Football (@brfootball) April 20, 2017
However, his inauguration into senior football has subsequently introduced the footballing world to one of the most exciting talents in Europe. He left such a mark after his first season with the first team that even Jose Mourinho – who is not known to work well with youngsters – has handed Rashford a fundamental role in his squad.
And while he hasn’t quite been as prolific – which can be attributed partly to the constant shifting and changing of his position – he has still managed to influence several games for Manchester United this season. The Chelsea game last weekend was one such instance and Thursday night was more of the same.
Deployed on the left wing on the night owing the Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to the side, Rashford was the biggest threat from Mourinho’s side. And he capped of an impressive performance, with the tie clinching goal.
Rashford has now had a direct contribution in 4 goals in his last four appearances for Manchester United and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the injury table, his contributions are vital to the success of the Red Devils for the remainder of the season.
One Step Closer
It is no secret as to why Jose Mourinho was appointed at the helm at Manchester United. The club had managed to win just trophy ever since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, and had been yearning to scale the heights of English and European football once again.
Jose Mourinho has qualified from every European quarter-final he has managed:
Real Madrid (3)
Man Utd (1) pic.twitter.com/QFKt3tW79I
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 20, 2017
In came Mourinho, a manager with a proven track record of winning trophies consistently. Ten months into his arrival at Old Trafford and he has already delivered one title to the club – a title that has made them the most successful English club.
And Saturday’s result has seen Manchester United get one step closer to clinching another trophy. Next up is Celta Vigo, an opposition that is certainly not easy meat having beaten toppled both Real Madrid and Barcelona this season.
However, their record in the competition thus far will give them cause for optimism. The Europa League also seems to be the more realistic route to clinching a place in the Champions League for Manchester United, and the favourites for the title will need to bring out their A-game in the remaining three games to ensure that happens.
A win in the Europa League will also bring another title to Old Trafford – one that has never been seen in the illustrious trophy cabinet at the Theatre of Dreams. If Mourinho can manage a way to keep his key players fit and firing, they certainly have a great chance to fulfilling that promise come May.