Manchester United kicked off the 2016/17 Europa League campaign in disappointing fashion after a controversial late strike from Tonny Vilhena sealed a 1-0 victory for Feyenoord in Group A.
Replays appear to show the creator of the winning goal, Nicolai Jorgensen, in an offside position, but play was allowed to continue and Vilhena fired home.
Clear chances had been few and far between before that on a balmy night in Rotterdam, a city with great European memories for United fans after the Cup Winners’ Cup triumph here in 1991. Another victory, courtesy of an Andy Cole hat-trick, followed in 1997, but this latest visit was not to end in the Reds’ favour.
Jose Mourinho made eight changes to the side that started against Manchester City in the derby five days earlier. Some players, including Wayne Rooney, Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia, stayed at home after being granted a rest, while two other regular starters for Mourinho’s United, Marouane Fellaini and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, were named on the bench as others were given their chance; indeed Matteo Darmian, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Ander Herrera, Morgan Schneiderlin and Marcus Rashford all made their first competitive starts under the new manager.
Dutch Eredivisie leaders Feyenoord came into the match in fine form after five wins from their opening five league games and they were the first side to register a shot on target when Steven Berghuis took aim with a well-struck attempt, but David De Gea was there to save smartly.
It was a pretty even contest for the opening half an hour, but United had the best chance on 24 minutes when neat play down the right, involving the lively Rashford, led to Darmian crossing for Anthony Martial, but the Frenchman sent a fizzing effort wide.
The Reds breathed a sigh of relief at the other end five minutes before the break when a period of pressure from Giovanni van Bronckhurst’s men led to the ball dropping to Jens Toornstra on the edge of the box, but with a clear sight of De Gea’s goal he blasted over.
Possession – Feyenoord: 52% United 48%
Shots – Feyenoord: 3 United: 3
Shots on target – Feyenoord: 2 United: 1
Corners – Feyenoord: 1 United: 3
Ander Herrera, who had provided such good energy against City, powered forward immediately from the restart and chanced his luck but his shot flew wide. Thereafter the pattern of the game continued with both sides having spells of positive play, but no real clear-cut opportunities.
With Mourinho keen to get off to a winning start in the Europa League campaign, he introduced fresh legs on 63 minutes, three pairs of them in fact, as Rashford, Martial and Juan Mata made way for Ibrahimovic, Memphis and Ashley Young.
Little changed in terms of the flow of the match even if Young and Ibrahimovic brought an added threat in attack but it was the hosts who made the vital breakthrough as the game wore on and in controversial fashion. Jorgensen powered down the right, as the flag remained down, and his cross fell to Vilhena who made no mistake with the finish.
Young saw an effort scrambled wide late on and an excellent free-kick from Ibrahimovic was well held by former Liverpool shot-stopper Brad Jones, but the Dutch side held out much to the Reds’ frustration.
Possession – Feyenoord: 43% United 57%
Shots – Feyenoord: 8 United: 18
Shots on target – Feyenoord: 3 United: 3
Corners – Feyenoord: 4 United: 4
Feyenoord: Jones, Karsdorp (Nieuwkoop 90), Botteghin, Van der Heijden, Kongolo, El Ahmadi, Kuyt (c), Vilhena, Berghuis (Basacikoglu 68), Jorgensen, Toornstra. Subs not used: Hansson, Woudenberg, Vejinovic, Tapia, Kramer.
Booked: Van der Heijden
United: De Gea; Darmian, Bailly, Smalling (c), Rojo; Schneiderlin, Herrera; Mata (Young 63), Pogba, Martial (Memphis 63); Rashford (Ibrahimovic 63). Subs not used: Romero, Fosu-Mensah, Carrick, Fellaini.