Friday 15 December 2017

Slow, static and sullen Zatan, Rashford the man and where Manchester United need to improve

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring their second goal with Anthony Martial and Michael Carrick
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring their second goal with Anthony Martial and Michael Carrick

James Ducker

Manchester United's progression to the semi-final of the Europa League came at a cost with potentially season-ending injuries to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rojo. Here are five talking points from last night's 2-1 extra time win at Old Trafford.

Rashford settles it with touch of magic

While team-mates were flailing all around him, Marcus Rashford was doing his best to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and drive United into the Europa League semi-finals.

A succession of misses would have killed the confidence of lesser 19-year-olds but not Rashford. His refusal to be cowed spoke volumes for his character and mentality and he eventually got the rewards his perseverance deserved with a moment of quality worthy of winning any game.

His deft turn took out not one but two defenders and, on a night when he had snatched at chances, he finally rediscovered his composure to slot the ball into the corner. More goals will come but the tools are all there – the pace, energy, touch, movement, skill and fearlessness.

Zlatan slow, static and sullen

The hour mark was approaching when Zlatan Ibrahimovic, stood near the touchline, booted an attempted pass out for an Anderlecht goal-kick to loud groans from the Old Trafford crowd.

It summed up the Swede’s night, perhaps even more than his later miss from six yards with just the goalkeeper to beat, or shanked shot from Michael Carrick’s pass, and was enough to prompt the rare sight of Jose Mourinho rushing from the technical area to rebuke his leading goalscorer.

Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic receives treatment for an injury during the UEFA Europa League, Quarter Final match at Old Trafford, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday April 19, 2017. See PA story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

It is on nights such as these that the prospect of Ibrahimovic departing in the summer does not seem quite so perturbing for United fans. Slow, static, sullen, he offered next to nothing and was dominated by Serigne Mbodji. Any other player might have been withdrawn at half-time. That Ibrahimovic stayed on the pitch probably owed much to his ability to nick a goal even when he has not played well.

In the end, injury forced Ibrahimovic's substitution to compound a wretched evening for the 35-year-old.

Bailly only recognised centre-back left standing

There would probably have been sniggers among United supporters had it been suggested last summer that an injury to Marcos Rojo in April would deal a severe blow to their season. But with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling already sidelined, the loss of the Argentina defender in the 23rd minute leaves Mourinho with Eric Bailly as his only recognised centre-half and a serious problem on the left side of his defence as showcased for Anderlecht’s equaliser.

Luke Shaw was too slow to cut out a cross and Daley Blind, Rojo’s replacement, then made a feeble attempt to clear before lacking the awareness to step up, instead playing Lukasz Teodorczyk and Sofiane Hanni onside, with the latter scoring.

Man of the match: Youri Tielemans

There is good reason why the Anderlecht midfielder is the jewel in his club’s crown and coveted by many of Europe’s leading clubs and he showed just why here. Ably assisted by Leander Dendoncker, the 19-year-old bestrode the midfield, working tirelessly, recycling the ball to excellent effect and feeding an ambitious attack ahead of him. A big money move beckons.

What United need to work on

An awful lot on this evidence but getting Ander Herrera back in the team will be a good starting point. Left on the bench after his exertions man-marking Eden Hazard out of Sunday’s game against Chelsea, United sorely missed the Spaniard’s energy and bite in midfield.

What Anderlecht need to work on

Not a great deal on this evidence. If Mourinho had expected the Belgian side to sit back, soak up pressure and wait for their moment to attack he was sorely mistaken. Anderlecht were ambitious and adventurous from the start and had no intention of parking the bus.

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