Thursday 19 October 2017

Fears for Zlatan Ibrahimovic as Marcus Rashford proves to be the extra-time hero for Man United

MANCHESTER UNITED 2 ANDERLECHT 1 (AET) (MANCHESTER UNITED PROGRESS 3-2 ON AGGREGATE)

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford (right) celebrates scoring his side's winner
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford (right) celebrates scoring his side's winner

Simon Peach

Marcus Rashford sent Manchester United into the Europa League semi-finals after Anderlecht took Jose Mourinho's side to extra-time in a breathless encounter.

England's last European representatives came into the quarter-final second leg boosted by Sunday's surprisingly dominant win against Premier League leaders Chelsea and Henrikh Mkhitaryan's away goal.

The Armenian struck again early on but United were given a scare, with Anderlecht captain Sofiane Hanni bringing the tie level, before Rashford capped a man-of-the-match display with the goal that secured a 2-1 extra-time triumph.

Victory saw Mourinho's men stumble a step closer to the Stockholm finale 3-2 on aggregate, but the Old Trafford quarter-final second leg proved costly as Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic sustained what appear to be serious injuries.

Asked about the condition of the pair, Mourinho said: "I want to wait, but my feeling is not good for both.

"I want to wait and try to be optimistic, but I am not."

Rojo's injury comes at a time when United already have Phil Jones (foot) and Chris Smalling (knee) sidelined.

When it was put to him that he was facing a significant lack of options at centre-back, Mourinho mentioned Daley Blind - Rojo's replacement from the bench - before suggesting Jones and Smalling needed to be "brave".

Mourinho, who earlier this season made an apparent criticism of Smalling's pain threshold, said: "We have Daley Blind, who has experience in the position, and I think it is time for Jones and Smalling to be brave - to risk.

"Because for the team you have to do everything, that is the way I think. You cannot do miracles, so miracles I don't expect, but they have to try to do everything to accelerate the process.

"They have injuries, and even with a crazy mentality, they cannot play Sunday (at Burnley in the Premier League).

"But with a special spirit, you can (come back) sooner than expected. So instead of mid-May, it could be the beginning of May, this kind of acceleration of the process."

Few could have foreseen such an arduous evening after Mkhitaryan's fifth goal in six Europa League matches, but impressive Anderlecht went into half-time level after Hanni reacted quickest to Youri Tielemans' deflected effort rebounding off the crossbar.

United's desperation to avoid an embarrassing exit was matched by the visitors' desire to win on English soil for the first time, leading to a thrilling second half that came to an excruciating end for Ibrahimovic.

The veteran Swede's enforced exit after landing awkwardly saw Rashford lead the line and the outrageously-talented 19-year-old struck the decisive blow, showing wonderful composure and skill to strike a 107th-minute winner.

Mourinho said he was not feeling optimistic about the injuries sustained by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo as Manchester United secured a place in the Europa League semi-finals.

Thursday's quarter-final second leg against Anderlecht at Old Trafford, which United won 2-1 in extra time on the night for a 3-2 triumph on aggregate, saw striker Ibrahimovic hobble off after landing awkwardly towards the end of normal time and defender Rojo depart on a stretcher in the first half.

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