EUROPA LEAGUE: MANCHESTER UNITED MADE TO SWEAT BY ANDERLECHT BEFORE MAKING SEMIS
There were 107 minutes on the clock when Marcus Rashford finally scored the goal that gave Manchester United distance on Anderlecht. But, my, they were hard to shake off.
Those who thought, complacently, that an away goal in Brussels made this a straightforward return for United were made to eat their words.
Those who remembered a 10-0 drubbing meted out here between the teams in 1956, or who made jokes about park teams after footage emerged of Anderlecht training on the day of the game in an urban green space in Castlefield, near their hotel, would have been feeling incredibly sheepish by full time.
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1): Romero 6.5, Valencia 6, Bailly 7, Rojo 6 (Blind 5.5, 23), Shaw 7, Pogba 6, Carrick 6, Lingard 5.5 (Fellaini 6.5, 59), Mkhitaryan 6.5, Rashford 8, Ibrahimovic 5 (Martial 6, 90)
Subs not used: De Gea, Rooney, Young, Herrera
Goals: Mkhitaryan (10), Rashford (107)
ANDERLECHT (4-2-3-1): Ruben 7, Appiah 5, Mbodji 6.5, Spajic 5.5, Obradovic 6.5, Chipciu 6 (Bruno 6, 63), Tielemans 7, Dendoncker 6.5, Hanni 7 (Stanciu 6, 63), Acheampong 7, Teodorczyk 6.5 (Thelin 6, 78)
Subs not used: Boeckx, Deschacht, Nuytinck, Capel
Goals: Hanni (31)
Booked: Tielemans, Appiah
Referee: Alberto Mallenco
Anderlecht made United fight with every sinew for this and the cost, by the end, was enormous. United are now three games away from next season’s Champions League, regardless of domestic events, but that is just as well, given the human price of Thursday night’s victory.
As Jose Mourinho was rallying his players for the extra-time onslaught — and that is what it was, largely, as Anderlecht were as good as exhausted by their efforts at that point — Zlatan Ibrahimovic could be seen in the distance, stricken.
His last act in normal time had been to land awkwardly on a knee, jumping for the ball. The professional reaction to the replays suggested that it might be serious; perhaps season-ending. Added to the first-half injury to Marcos Rojo — and centre half is a position where United cannot afford more casualties — and they could be significantly depleted.
The silver lining is the form of Rashford. Outstanding against Chelsea on Sunday, decisive here, even if he missed a few before getting the winner.
Perfectionists may argue that United would not have been battling through extra time had Rashford taken good chances in the second-half. True, but United’s problem all season has been closing out games, he is hardly alone in needing to regain his touch in front of goal, and Anderlecht defended magnificently.
Some might even say it will be a blessing in disguise if Ibrahimovic’s absence allows Rashford to play as a central striker again. Certainly, the way he took the winner here was further evidence of an immense talent.
Marouane Fellaini knocked the ball down, but it was Rashford who took two Anderlecht players out of the game with one drag back, making enough room for the shot. And there it was, the matchwinner, fittingly in the tournament that made his name last season.
Anderlecht looked done but from somewhere they found reserves of energy to force two late chances from Frank Acheampong and the outstanding Kara Mbodji. United were not allowed to relax right until the end.
So to draw on an old cliche, it transpires there are no easy games in European football. Not at the knockout stage, and not for English clubs. There was too much presumption after United drew in Brussels last week; a lot of confidence that an away goal as good as ensured United’s smooth progress into the last four of the Europa League — that victory at Old Trafford was a given.
Even 0-0 would do — and United have had a few of them here of late, Burnley, Hull and West Bromwich Albion to name three. That should have been the warning sign.
Nothing about United at home is predictable now and Anderlecht are a much better team than some of those who have come here and got results this season.
United will claim they had three goals disallowed, but Anthony Martial was offside, Fellaini did foul the defender and, while the offside call on Rashford was wrong, Anderlecht had stopped playing when he put the ball in the net.
There were also huge misses for United in the second half. Paul Pogba shot over from a dead ball that dropped for him six yards out, while Rashford failed to capitalise on a mistake by defender Dennis Appiah.
He miscued and Rashford was clear on goal with only Ruben Martinez to beat. He rounded the Anderlecht goalkeeper but took it too wide, leaving himself with no angle to finish.
To some extent it was a familiar story for United. They got ahead early and should have played with swagger, but lost momentum and allowed Anderlecht back into the game. They even scored from their first attack of significance after 11 minutes.
It was a lovely ball from Pogba, picking out Rashford on the left. His cross was blocked by Mbodji but fell to Henrikh Mkhitaryan and the Armenian midfielder shot low to record his fifth goal in UEFA competition this season. That is one more than he has got in the Premier League.
For a while it looked enough to keep United comfortable. For the 10 minutes after the goal, Anderlecht were on the ropes. A Pogba header was tipped over by Martinez, who stopped a fine curling shot from Jesse Lingard a minute later. United’s supremacy seemed to dwindle, however, with the injury to Rojo.
It was his own fault — a poor touch sending him into a 50-50 with Alexandru Chipciu. Rojo got the worst of it, and could only carry on after several minutes of treatment.
From Anderlecht’s next attack, Rojo and partner Eric Bailly got into a dreadful tangle, leaving Acheampong on goal. His shot finished in the side-netting before Rojo signalled he could no longer continue. He was replaced by Danny Blind.
After that, Anderlecht were in the ascendancy. They have scored in every game in Europe this season and in the 32nd minute that impressive run was maintained.
Leander Dendoncker picked out Chipciu on the right and his cross was deflected out to Youri Tielemans by Blind. His shot was deflected on to the bar, falling to Lukasz Teodorczyk. He could not get into the right shape to take advantage but captain Sofiane Hanni fired the ball into the net.
So United go into Friday’s draw with Celta Vigo, Ajax and Lyon. They are favourites, undoubtedly; but anyone who thinks it will be plain sailing is not so much complacent as a fool.
culled from daily mail