By Harry Ogilvie
- Mkhitaryan strikes crucial away goal
- United concede late equaliser
Before United’s enthralling encounter with Chelsea at Old Trafford, they faced 33 time Belgian First Division winners, Anderlecht in the Europa League Quarter Finals first-leg.
This game was vitally important to United’s hopes of playing Champions League next season.
After overcoming Rostov in the previous round, United faced the Belgian high flyers in the competition which could lead to a place in next seasons Champions League group stages.
Mourinho fielded a strong, attacking side with Romero and his fellow centre backs – Rojo and Bailly retaining their places in the side after a 3-0 defeat of Sunderland at the weekend. Ibrahimovic also remained in the starting XI with Rashford and Lingard on either side of him.
Experience Of Carrick And Valencia Return
Experienced deep lying midfielder, Carrick returned to partnered Pogba in midfield. While Antonio Valencia return at right-back after sitting out games Everton and Sunderland.
The line-up was strong one despite top of the table Chelsea at the weekend.
In the opening 10 minutes, it was Anderlecht who looked sharp as United appeared to look almost sluggish. However, after this slow 10 minute period, it was United who took control and began to dominate.
It wasn’t until the 36th minute that United’s dominance paid off when Rashford hit a well directed volley towards the corner which the Anderlecht keeper saved to deny him, only for Mkhitaryan to follow up and hit the ball into the roof of the net.
This goal was his fourth in seven Europa League appearances.
United continued to pressurise a decent Anderlecht side whose defence appeared solid prior to Mkhitaryan opener. Mourinho’s men went in at half time 1-0 up, which was ideal.
They continued to put the Belgian side under plenty of pressure, despite this United could simply not take any of their chances, which has been a problem throughout the season.
It was a forgone conclusion after United missed several goal scoring opportunities that they were inevitably going to concede.
85th Minute Strike Draws Anderlecht Level
The inevitable happened in the 85th minute when Leander Dendoncker headed in the Belgian league leaders equalising goal.
This goal could prove crucial in the tie as it keeps Anderlecht firmly in the tie and makes the second-leg even more intriguing.
The big question despite a satisfactory result is why are United failing to finish their chances? This has been an issue for United time and time again in every competition for the Reds but mostly in the Premier League.
We have failed to defeat the likes of Bournemouth, Arsenal and Burnley due to the teams failure to covert clear chances repeatedly.
This has proved a frustrating issue for every United fan that has watched them this season.
The constant failure to take their chances will definitely reflect in the sides league position this season and could also impact their chances of winning the Europa League.
The most notable performance came from a rejuvenated Marcus Rashford.
The man who has been on United’s books since the age of seven proved threatening in the final third with his direct dribbles and decisive runs behind the Anderlecht back line.
Another impressive element of the young Englishman’s performance was his tracking back, in the time he was on the field before being taken off after a heavy challenge he successfully made 4 blocks and won 100% of his tackles.
His work rate going backwards and forwards throughout the game was commendable to say the least.
Carrick And Pogba Control Midfield
Another mentionable performance came from another Englishman- Michael Carrick.
The composed midfielder is proving to be like a fine wine, he gets better with age. His ability to control the tempo of a game and move the ball in such a swift yet relaxed manner is unbelievable.
The 35 year old’s experience in the holding midfield role has proved to be crucial in several important games this season and has also helped his teammate, Paul Pogba to move with more freedom and less responsibility as he knows the reliant veteran will sit back and cover him.
Pogba despite recent criticism performed well and contributed to United’s dominance in the midfield.
The Frenchman’s range of passing and dribbling abilities alongside Carrick’s experience proved to much for Belgian prodigy, Tielemans and goalscorer, Dendoncker.
He also made a handful of solid tackles and interceptions that any centre midfielder would be proud of.
The former Juventus man linked the play between defence and attack superbly and controlled the tempo with Carrick when United were under pressure flawlessly.
Martial Fails To Make Impact
One performance that may have disappointed some United fans came from Anthony Martial.
The wide player came off the bench with 28 minutes remaining. This would have excited many as he trotted on to the pitch with his usual unfazed look on his face.
But unfortunately for him he struggled once he got on, he consistently lost the ball every time he attempted to take on the Anderlecht full back and broke down several promising attacks that United created.
However, it is hard to give him any stick after he single handily carried United for most of last season scoring 17 goals but the truth is he hasn’t reached the heights of last season this term.
I believe this may be down to a combination of a lack of confidence, game time and in some cases harsh criticism from Mourinho.
You have to feel for the ex-Monaco man. Hopefully his form will pick up and we will see the Martial of last season soon because he is an exceptional talent with insane potential.
The Manager’s View
The boss was upbeat saying “The result is positive – to play at home with an advantage, to start the game with an advantage, it is a good result but I think the result should be much better.” This reflecting Mourinho and much of the fans frustration and belief United should have won.
He again voiced his anguish and exasperation when looking at the teams consistent failure to be clinical. He said “We have to kill matches. We had chances, control, but we don’t score goals; we risk. There was lots of space to kill, good chances”.
The Portuguese tactician complimented his teams performance from a defensive point of view and described it as “strong”. He proceeded to comment on individuals defensive performance “Lingard, Mkhitaryan, Rashford- they did defensively what we asked them to do, to compact the team, to control direct opponents, to cover some spaces.”
Although it was not the perfect result and probably not the deserved result, it still could have been worse.
Despite United potentially deserving to win the game, they’ve came away with a crucial away goal and will take Anderlecht back to Old Trafford where they defeated FC Rostov 1-0 in the last round.
United will now have a clear idea of their oppositions ability and will know exactly how to approach the game.
I, like many pundits and those with any idea about football expect them to defeat Anderlecht and hopefully go on to win the Europa League.
It may not be simple but it is still very much possible.
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