Manchester United beat Granada 2-0 in the UEFA Europa League quarter-final first leg at the Nuevo Estadio de Los Cármenes on Thursday evening. It was a fraught first half until Marcus Rashford, played through by a Victor Lindelof long-ball in the 31st minute of the match. Granada did not seem to be in the mood to score goals, as they had done at home in the last two knockout rounds of the competition. A late penalty scored by Bruno Fernandes, after he was seemingly fouled in the box, giving United a two away goal cushion to take back to the Theatre of Dreams next week.
Granada started the game well, launching on the attack right away, trying to get United with their pants down. Fortunately, it was not meant to be for the Spanish side. The game soon started to become lacklustre and the highlight was a streaker on the pitch in the sixth minute, who looked rather like Mohamed Salah, but it was not him, he will still be hiding after Liverpool were humiliated by Real Madrid. United had the majority of the possession in the opening 25 minutes of the match but there were no real chances that could have amounted to something, which was a worry, but something United have been known for, especially recently.
In the 31st minute of the match, not that we were able to see it live on BT Sport in England, Marcus Rashford opened the scoring, getting his 20th goal of the season so far. On replay, David De Gea fed the ball out to Victor Lindelof, who had time on the ball to think ahead. Rashford was rushing forward, remaining onside only for the Swedish international to loft a long ball up field to Rashford, who beat the Granada goalkeeper cooly to put United ahead, which ends Granada’s current form at home in the knockout stages where they have beaten both Napoli and Molde 2-0 in the first leg, losing 2-1 in the second and going through on aggregate.
United will need to make some changes next week with a flurry of yellow cards in this half. Paul Pogba was booked in the eighth minute of the match, Scott McTominay was booked in the 40th minute and Luke Shaw was booked in the 42nd minute and both McTominay and Shaw will miss the second leg through suspension, which is not the end of the world for United but it will cut Solskjaer’s options down a little next week at the Theatre of Dreams. The first half was brought to a close with United still leading 1-0, having 66% of the ball and more importantly, having eight shots, one on target resulting in the goal, two off target and five being blocked.
At the start of the second half, Solskjaer made his first substitution with Alex Telles replacing Shaw, who was booked in the first half – possibly keeping him fit for Sunday’s clash with Tottenham Hotspur. Both United and Granada were trying to get something from the game in the early stages of the half with United seemingly the most comfortable team on the pitch. In the 65th minute of the match, Edinson Cavani replaced Rashford, the scorer of the only goal in the match, which will have been well-received by some with Rashford’s injury not completely recovered. United will need to retain their lead ensuring that they don’t conceded.
Harry Maguire was booked in the 72nd minute of the match, which means he will also miss the second leg because an accumulation of yellow cards in the competition. United should strive to score more goals in this match to give them a cushion next week, as United’s defence will not be as strong as it could be next week, which could see Solskjaer revert to a 3-4-1-2 formation or similar. In the 64th minute of the match, Solskjaer made his third substitution with Nemanja Matic replacing Pogba, who was on a yellow card from the eighth minute of the match. Granada have not looked like scoring in this match, which might change next week.
Nemanja Matic was booked in the 84th minute of the match for a foul, which was a harsh booking. A minute later, Solskjaer made his fourth substitute with Donny van de Beek replacing Mason Greenwood. United should, in may opinion, have given Amad Diallo and Anthony Elanga a chance as United are leading, could have scored more goals and more importantly, earned both players more confidence ahead of the second leg at Old Trafford in a week’s time. United won a penalty in the 89th minute of the match with Bruno Fernandes scoring his 24th goal of the season a minute later. United got what they needed a two-goal cushion to take into next week.
No matter what those who always find something to moan about say, United won this match with two away goals, which will put them in good stead of reaching the semi-final of the competition. They will need to keep a clean sheet at Old Trafford next week, or score a few more goals to give them more of a cushion. However, the suspension of Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay will be a big loss and Solskjaer will need to have a game plan to get by without the trio. It is possible that other players end up getting booked next week, which will cause more of a problem for the club. That said though, United have one foot in the door.
Solskjaer’s side will now be able to get ready for Sunday’s Premier League clash with Tottenham Hotspur, who are not the team they were at the start of the season, and neither are United. This will be a battle to show the Spurs supporters that just because they scored six goals at Old Trafford, does not mean they win a trophy, which is something the club have been lacking in for many years now, winning the League Cup more than ten years ago and watching other London clubs win silverware in that time. Spurs are struggling to break into the top four this season which shows how far they have fallen and they could fall further this season.
Goals: Marcus Rashford 31′, Bruno Fernandes 90’
Assists: Victor Lindelof 31′
Manchester United: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw (Telles 46′); McTominay, Pogba (Matic 74′); James, Fernandes, Rashford (Cavani 65′); Greenwood (Van de Beek 85′)
Substitutes Not Used: Grant, Henderson; Williams, Tuanzebe; Mata, Fred, Diallo; Elanga
Bookings: Paul Pogba 8′, Scott McTominay 40′, Luke Shaw 42′, Harry Maguire 72′, Nemanja Matic 84′
Written by John Walker