It was tense and extra-time was required, but Manchester United are in the Europa League semi-finals after securing a 3-2 aggregate win over Anderlecht at Old Trafford.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan broke the deadlock and Sofiane Hanni equalised, leading to a later-than-expected finish on Thursday night, but the Reds eventually went through thanks to Marcus Rashford’s winner.
Two sour notes were the injuries sustained by Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, yet qualification remains the most important thing and a place in Friday’s last-four draw in Nyon, Switzerland.
United began the night with an away-goals advantage following the 1-1 first-leg draw out in Belgium and, as such, Anderlecht had to score at least once at Old Trafford. The visitors showed their ambition in the opening three minutes, too, when Leander Dendoncker hit a powerful effort that flew over the bar.
Yet the Reds remained composed and took a nerve-easing lead in the 10th minute when Mkhitaryan drilled in from the edge of the area, notching his fifth Europa League goal of the season. The Armenian almost claimed an assist a moment later, when his corner led to Paul Pogba’s header being saved by the Anderlecht keeper Rubén Martínez, who later pulled off a wonder save to deny Jesse Lingard.
United’s good mood was tempered when Rojo was forced off on a stretcher after 23 minutes, which is a concern with his fellow centre-backs Chris Smalling and Phil Jones ruled out with injury until mid-May. Perhaps sensing a chance to capitalise on this blow, Anderlecht attacked and equalised in slightly fortuitous circumstances when Tielemans’ deflected shot cannoned off the bar into the path of Teodorczyk, whose scuffed effort then fell kindly for Hanni to rifle into the net.
STATS AT HALF-TIME
Possession: United 60% Anderlecht 40%
Total shots: United 8 Anderlecht 7
Shots on target: United 5 Anderlecht 3
Corners: United 4 Anderlecht 2
Anderlecht looked dangerous on the counter and Teodorczyk’s shot brought a good save out of Romero early in the second half, but it was United who had the best chance following the restart when the galloping Luke Shaw’s cross rolled agonisingly across the face of goal past Lingard. Marouane Fellaini was introduced to the sound of jeers from the away fans, who remembered his spell with rivals Standard Liege, and the Belgium almost upset them further by scoring as his header from a corner was saved.
Rashford fired wide after the hour and the 19-year-old had a better opportunity on 69 minutes when beating Dennis Appiah to Mkhitaryan’s punt and rounding the goalkeeper, although a heavy touch allowed the Anderlecht defender to execute a well-timed tackle while the goal was gaping. Ibrahimovic then saw a shot blocked before he was felled for what looked like a penalty, only for the referee to wave play on.
United dominated the second half as Pogba shot over and Ibrahimovic twice fired wide while the clock ticked on. Rashford even had the ball in the net, yet the linesman had his flag raised for offside – despite replays suggesting otherwise. Then, worryingly, Zlatan fell awkwardly in the 92nd minute and the towering Swede was duly substituted before the start of extra time, with Anthony Martial taking his place.
STATS AT FULL-TIME
Possession: United 61% Anderlecht 39%
Total shots: United 17 Anderlecht 12
Shots on target: United 7 Anderlecht 4
Corners: United 9 Anderlecht 5
United again went close at the start of extra time when Pogba’s overhead kick from Rashford’s Rabona was saved by Ruben. Later, on 100 minutes, the France international smashed into the net from several yards out, only to be frustrated when the referee halted play for a Fellaini foul in the build-up.
Just as a dreaded penalty shootout was appearing likely, the Reds scored a deserved winning goal from the left boot of Rashford – his 10th strike of the season. A third disallowed goal followed, this time from substitute Martial on 119 minutes, prior to the full-time whistle blowing on a dramatic quarter-final tie.
STATS AFTER EXTRA-TIME
Possession: United 60% Anderlecht 40%
Total shots: United 22 Anderlecht 18
Shots on target: United 10 Anderlecht 6
Corners: United 12 Anderlecht 6
United: Romero, Valencia, Bailly, Rojo (Blind 23’), Shaw, Carrick, Pogba, Mkhitaryan, Lingard (Fellaini 60’), Rashford, Ibrahimovic (Martial 90’).
Subs not used: De Gea, Young, Herrera, Rooney.
Anderlecht: Ruben, Appiah, Mbodji, Spajic, Obradovic; Dendoncker, Tielemans, Hanni (Stanciu 63’), Acheampong, Teodorczyk (Kiese Thelin 79’), Chipciu (Bruno 63’).
Subs not used: Boeckx, Deschacht, Nuytinck, Capel.
Booked: Tielemans, Appiah