A rather roller coaster of emotions tonight for Manchester United fans. After taking the lead through Henrikh Mkhitaryan, United looked comfortable with their 2-1 aggregate lead that would have seen the reds progress through to the semi-finals. However, after a positive reaction from the Belgian side, Hanni brought the tie level and the game looked destined for a dreaded penalty shoot-out had it not been for a spectacular finish from Marcus Rashford. The win now keeps United’s Europa League dream alive and of course an alternative path into Champions League qualification. Here’s what we learned against Anderlecht tonight.
Rashford excels up top
The match winner Marcus Rashford has enjoyed a very bright last couple of games. After scoring against Chelsea on the weekend, not many would have been surprised to see the Englishman keeping his spot in the team despite being pushed out on the left flank. Despite offering energy and runs down the wing, Rashford has certainly proven that his most effective position is as the number 9 up top. Although missing a one on one opportunity, Rashford proved his worth with an excellent Cruyff turn inside the box before slotting the ball home with his weaker foot. After being moved back up to the striker role after Zlatan’s injury, Rashford offered non-stop energy and runs in behind the defence, causing constant mayhem to Anderlecht’s back line. The game no doubt proved yet again what fans have been crying out about all season; Rashford is a striker, not a winger.
Rojo and Ibrahimovic injuries will be costly
The biggest negative of the night was no doubt the injuries that struck both Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. After two rather sore clashes in successive minutes, Rojo had to be stretchered off with what looked to be a twisted knee and his absence seemed to shake the whole of United’s defence. After forming a solid partnership with Eric Bailly over the last few weeks, Rojo has certainly impressed this season and will no doubt be a huge miss for this weekend’s clash with Burnley. Whilst Daley Blind didn’t really do much wrong, the whole structure of the team defensively seemed to deteriorate after the removal of Rojo.
Despite not leaving on a stretcher, the most serious of injuries certainly looked to be suffered by Ibrahimovic, who on first glance looks to have suffered ligament damage in his knee. Should this be the case, it could well be the end of Ibrahimovic’s season and thus United would be losing their top goalscorer in a very important run in. Despite a rather poor performance from the big Swede tonight, Ibrahimovic’s goals and presence on the pitch will no doubt be a big miss for United.
Luke Shaw must continue to start
After a rather turbulent season for the young left-back, it can be said with confidence that Luke Shaw looks like he is steadily rediscovering his form. An energetic performance tonight both defensively and most particularly offensively would have been a great sight to behold for all Manchester United fans. Following a strong burst forward down the flank, Shaw managed to whip in a great cross into the box which should have resulted in an easy tap-in from Jesse Lingard and thus put United 2-1 up in normal time. The bursting forward down the left wing was a prominent factor in the game tonight and is something that United have lacked all season through the likes of Darmian and Blind. The performance tonight will no doubt show Mourinho what Shaw has to offer and we will hopefully be seeing Shaw in that spot from now till the end of the season.
Despite having progressed through to the semi-finals, the result should have been much more comfortable for Manchester United. Following another game where easy chances were wasted by multiple players meant it could potentially have been another frustrating night at Old Trafford. However, the reds go marching on in Europe once more and will no doubt be the team that others want to avoid in the draw tomorrow night.