Marcus Rashford to the rescue as United edge to semi-final

Marcus Rashford made a compelling case for youth as Manchester United stumbled their way into the Europa League semi-finals, moving one step closer towards success in teh competition that is most likely to provide the club with a route back into the Champions League.



Marcus Rashford scores Manchester United's extra-time winner against Anderlecht in last night's Europa League quarter-final second leg at Old Trafford

Europa League quarter-final

Manchester United 2 Anerlecht 1


Forced into extra-time by an energetic, if hardly formidable Anderlecht side, it took Rashford to settle the tie will an improvised finish from Marouane Fellaini’s knock-down after another evening of toil that has been far too familiar for United supporters in recent years.

This was an evening of hard graft, enlightened by interventions by Rashford

The target of the final in Stockholm on May 24 remains in sight and right now, the youngster appears to be the most likely of Mourinho’s squad to inspire success.

The belief that a new United side is finally emerging under Mourinho was strengthened by Sunday’s vibrant display against the manager’s former club Chelsea. 

That performance was arguably the club’s finest since Alex Ferguson retired four years ago had offered a glimpse of the youthful potential of the squad, and in particular of Marcus Rashford.

The young England striker had excelled in a central role but was last night asked operate in a wider position on the left-hand flank, making way for the returning Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Rashford’s display against Chelsea had raised the question that, for all his goals this season, Ibrahimovic’s lack of pace was having a detrimental effect on the team.

That, though, appeared to be a debate for another day as Rashford made an equally impressive start in his new position, playing a prominent part in United’s positive opening that culminated in Mkhitaryan’s tenth-minute opening goal that should have set Mourinho’s side on course for a comfortable evening.

Paul Pogba led a break from deep inside his own half, collecting a loose ball and releasing Rashford with a superbly weighted ball.

Rashford’s attempt to find Ibrahimovic with a low cross was blocked but the young forward showed immense composure when the ball rebounded back to him, playing square for Mkhitaryan who finished with a low right-foot shot after taking an initial touch.

Two minutes later Pogba thought he had doubled the lead with a header from Mkhitaryan’s corner that Ruben did well to tip over the bar. 

Then moments later, Rashford again displayed a cool head, setting up Jesse Lingard whose angled shot drew a full length save from the visiting keeper.

At that stage United appeared to be cruising, but the way in which they let back into the game was alarming.

There was, however, nothing fortunate about the way the Belgian team began to take control of a game after initially appearing overwhelmed. Retaining their composure and exploiting the tension which quickly began to afflict Mourinho’s side, Anderlecht began to threaten. 

Frank Acheampong fired into the side netting when he was clear on goal after Marcos Rojo and Eric Bailly got in each other’s way before Leander Dendoncker shot narrowly wide.

An equaliser was coming and finally arrived on the half hour after another display of defensive panic that served as a reminder to Mourinho he still has significant work to do before this United side bears similar traits of the Portuguese’s previous teams.

Daley Blind, on for the injured Rojo, sent a clearing header to the feet of Youri Tielemens who collected the ball unchallenged before striking a deflected shot against the bar.

The scramble that followed ended with Hanni scoring from close range and the tie was level.

United’s response was underwhelming and their lack of potency up front did nothing to support the view that Ibrahimovic should remain Mourinho’s first choice option up front.

Not that Rashford fared much better.

The younger man certainly offered more dynamism but his failure to make more of a chance midway through the second half when he ran clear from 40 yards out, yet allowed himself to be pushed too far wide after rounding the keeper, did nothing to calm his manager’s mood.

Momentum may have been with United but that wasn’t enough.

The game moved into extra-time and when Paul Pogba thought he had scored, the effort was ruled out for a foul by Marouane Fellaini.

  • UEFA Europa League Quarter-Final - Second Leg Schalke 04 3 Ajax 2 (Agg 3-4) After Extra Time
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Manchester United (4-2-3-1): Romero; Valencia, Bailly, Rojo (Blind 24), Shaw; Carrick, Pogba ; Lingard (Fellaini), Mkhitaryan, Rashford; Ibrahimovic (Martial 90).

Subs: De Gea, Fellaini, Herrera, Young, Rooney.

Anderlecht (4-2-3-1): Ruben; Appiah, Kara, Spajic, Obradovic; Tielemans, Dendoncker; Hanni (Stanciu 64), Chipciu (Bruno 64), Acheampong 6; Teodorczyk (Thelin 79).

Subs: Boeckx, Deschacht, Nuytinck, Capel, Kiese,.

Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (Spain).

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