Manchester United hold the advantage against Anderlecht in the Europa League quarter-finals after securing a 1-1 draw in Thursday’s first leg in Brussels.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored a crucial away goal 10 minutes before the break at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, netting from an acute angle to put United ahead, but Leander Dendoncker’s powerful header four minutes from time means the tie is still alive ahead of the return game at Old Trafford.
Ahead of the game, Jose Mourinho made three changes from the side that beat Sunderland last weekend, with Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick and Marcus Rashford all named in the starting line-up.
Amid perfect conditions, and backed by a vocal home support, Anderlecht started brightly and might have tested Sergio Romero with three minutes gone, but for Massimo Bruno’s mis-hit effort from just inside the area.
At the other end, a one-two between Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic almost came off, but the ball skipped off the heavily-watered surface and into the hands of Anderlecht’s goalkeeper, Ruben. The pace of both sides in attack was quickly becoming clear and the hosts had another half-chance soon after, following a swift counter-attack, but this time Bruno saw his effort blocked.
Mourinho’s men then so nearly took the lead on 18 minutes, as Rashford nonchalantly brought down a pass before fizzing in a low cross towards Ibrahimovic. The Swede’s stabbed shot ricocheted off Ruben and into the path of Jesse Lingard, who in turn could only hit the post. Rashford went for goal himself moments later, but his swerving 20-yard drive flew just wide, momentarily silencing the home crowd, who breathed a collective sigh of relief.
United, and in particular Rashford, were beginning to cause real problems for Anderlecht. With 27 minutes gone, Carrick found the youngster with a pin-point ball over the top; it was cleared as far as Mkhitaryan, who saw his effort well blocked. Micki was involved again as the Reds continued to press, nutmegging his marker and passing to Lingard, who was also stopped in his tracks.
At the next time of asking, however, the Reds did find a breakthrough. A neat move involving Ibrahimovic saw the ball slipped out wide to Valencia, who looked up and picked out Rashford. The attacker’s effort was pushed away, but Mkhitaryan raced in to fire into the roof of the net from a tight angle and claim his fourth goal in as many European away games.
It was the away goal the Reds had been looking for, and one which ultimately separated the sides going into the break.
Possession: Anderlecht 31% United 69%
Shots: Anderlecht 2 United 9
Shots on target: Anderlecht 0 United 3
Corners: Anderlecht 3 United 2
After the restart, the Belgians looked to respond and won a free-kick on the edge of the United box, but Nicolae Stanciu fired over the bar. In what was a strong start to the half for the hosts, Anderlecht came even closer to equalising on 50 minutes, when Bruno’s effort was hacked away by Valencia before crossing the line, and the defender followed up by blocking the rebound.
Having weathered the mini-storm, the Reds and Mkhitaryan could have scored a second at the other end, as the midfielder tried to divert Matteo Darmian’s cross into the corner, but saw his effort drop the wrong side of the post.
With Anderlecht in need of a goal, and United sensing that another might be enough to kill the tie, both sides made a change as the game reached the hour-mark, with Anthony Martial replacing Lingard. The Frenchman’s first act was to cut inside quickly from the left, though his low strike was blocked.
The hosts had appeals for a penalty waved away by referee Felix Brych, as Darmian slid into a 50/50 challenge inside the area, prompting further substitutions, as Marouane Fellaini entered the game in place of the impressive Rashford.
Chances were proving few and far between with the clock ticking down towards full-time, but Anderlecht substitute Sofiane Hanni’s deflected effort brought some hope of a late equaliser for Rene Weiler’s men. The attacker tried his luck again minutes later, but shot comfortably wide of Romero’s goal.
United might have doubled the advantage through Pogba after the midfielder found himself through on goal, and it was a missed chance the Reds were made to regret as, at the other end, Dendoncker’s bullet header flew into the net, to leave the tie in the balance.
Possession: Anderlecht 36% United 64%
Shots: Anderlecht 12 United 16
Shots on target: Anderlecht 1 United 7
Corners: Anderlecht 6 United 3
Anderlecht: Ruben, Appiah, Mbodji, Nuytinck, Obradovic, Tielemans, Dendoncker, Stanciu (Hanni 65), Bruno (Chipciu 58), Kiese-Thelin (Teodorczyk 75), Acheampong.
Subs not used: Boeckx, Deschacht, Spajic, Capel.
United: Romero, Valencia, Bailly, Rojo, Darmian, Carrick, Pogba, Mkhitaryan, (Fosu-Mensah 90), Lingard (Martial 63), Rashford (Fellaini 75), Ibrahimovic.
Subs not used: De Gea, Blind, Shaw, Herrera.
Booked: Mkhitaryan, Carrick, Fosu-Mensah.