Manchester United edged to a 3-2 aggregate win against Anderlecht in the Europa League quarter-final on Thursday night, with Marcus Rashford scoring the decisive winner with a moment of individual brilliance in extra-time.
It had been a game of familiar frustration prior to the youngster’s goal, a host of opportunities missed in the second half of normal time.
United will now play one of Lyon, Ajax and Celta Vigo in the semi-final as they look to secure their first Europa League trophy.
Here are five things we learned from Thursday night’s win…
5. Marcus Rashford Emerging as United’s Match Winner
For much of this season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has carried the burden of United’s go-to player for a crucial goal, but that now looks to be changing.
After an excellent display in last weekend’s win against Chelsea, Rashford was again a stand out performer, producing a moment of brilliance to finally end Anderlecht’s resistance in extra-time.
With Ibrahimovic potentially set for a spell on the sidelines having suffered a nasty looking injury at the end of normal time, the ever-improving Rashford could be the man to inspire his side to a successful end to the season.
4. Anderlecht Show that Europa League Victory Won’t Be Easy
They tired as the game progressed, but Anderlecht more than played their part in an entertaining second leg at Old Trafford.
The Belgian side were probably the better of the two in the first half, and possessed a signinficant attacking threat throughout the game. It might have surprised a few that Rene Weiler’s side proved such difficult opposition, but it’s perhaps a demonstration that winning the Europa League will not prove an easy task.
United, such is their global reputation, will be considered favourites, but there are some potentially tricky opponents still to play.
3. United’s Profligacy Still Proving to Be a Problem
United missing chances at Old Trafford is nothing new, but Sunday’s clinical win against Chelsea felt like a corner may have been turned.
Misfortune and in-form opposition goalkeepers have been blamed in the past, and both could have been the case at times against Anderlecht. But there’s no denying that a number of clear chances were squandered simply through poor finishing.
Whatever the reason for United’s profligacy, Jose Mourinho needs to look to find a solution ahead of a crucial end to the season.
2. United Could Face Two Significant Injury Blows
First Marcos Rojo, then Zlatan Ibrahimovic. United’s win against Anderlecht may have come at a significant cost.
Jose Mourinho said after the game that he is “not optimistic” over the prospects of two of his most important players, so it could be that the depth of United’s squad is called into question over the coming weeks.
Ibrahimovic didn’t have his best game, but the enigmatic Swede has proved instrumental this season, and United have not yet faced a prolonged spell without him. Rojo, meanwhile, had established himself alongside Eric Bailly in defence in recent weeks, impressing against Chelsea.
1. Top Four & Europa League Success Still a Possibility
Much has been said about which competition United should focus their attention on entering the latter stages of the season, but it could be that a top four finish and a Europa League win are not mutually exclusive.
In terms of results it has been an excellent week for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United; first a morale boosting, tactically immaculate win against Premier League leaders Chelsea, which kept them within touching distance of both Manchester City and Liverpool, and then Thursday night’s win against Anderlecht.
United have not been without problems this season, but a top four finish and a European trophy would certainly not be scoffed at.