It required another special goal from Marcus Rashford, this time in extra-time, to settle the thrilling encounter between the Red Devils and Anderlecht for the return leg of the quarter finals of the Europa League. The Red Devils were held to a 1-1 scoreline in normal time (again following the first leg last week), and were struggling to find the net despite creating many chances, and the defense was not looking confident at all, while these players gratified us with a mind-blowing display last Sunday against Chelsea, before the resurgent striker found the net to send the team to the semi-finals.
Anderlecht looked more comfortable in the early minutes of the game, as Dendoncker was the first one to try a dipping 30-yard strike which nearly caught out Romero in goal, but the ball just cleared the crossbar as it sailed over. United however had the lead on the 10th minute, as Rashford’s initial attempt to find Zlatan was blocked, but the rebound fell kindly to him, and he teed up Mkhitaryan on the edge of the box, and the midfielder rifled a low shot past the keeper to open the score. Buoyed by the goal, the Red Devils increased the tempo and Pogba saw his header palmed over the bar by Ruben, then Lingard’s curling effort from outside the box was somehow kept out by the keeper again. However, as the attempts failed, United suddenly switched off, allowing the Belgians to get back in the game again, as Rojo, who had picked up an injury moments earlier, failed to intervene properly on Acheampong, and the latter saw his attempt deflect off the chest of Romero for a corner-kick. Rojo was eventually stretchered away as he could not continue on, replaced by Blind. United were in a defensive mess from thereon, and Dendoncker tried his luck again, this time Romero getting his fingertip to the ball to keep it out. Tielemans added his name to the attempts’ list for Anderlecht as they refused to give up. They were rewarded on the 32nd minute, as Tielemans’ shot was deflected on the bar, and the rebound fell to Teodorczyk who set up Hanni for the equalizer, with the United defense in complete chaos. Zlatan, who was given rest against Chelsea, was more like a dead-weight in attack, as he failed to produce any single contribution so far, and also, United were playing more long balls upfront in attempts to find him, while on the other hand, Rashford was making himself a nuisance to his marker as he continued with the good run from Sunday’s match. Pogba is still unsettled in the team, or simply overrated, as he was trying hard as well to get things clicking, but was still not meeting the expectations. United were lucky to go 1-1 at half time, as Hanni proved to be a nuisance at the other end as he managed to steal the ball before Romero could get to it from yet another raid by the Belgian side, but fortunately, his touch took the ball out for a goal-kick.
Anderlecht had the first opportunity of the second half, with Tielemans leading the attack again, but this time Valencia was more prompt to keep out Teodorczyk. United responded at the other end as Shaw made a run in the box before delivering a low cross across goal, but Lingard failed to make proper contact with the ball as the empty net beckoned. The match was well balanced again, as Anderlecht kept probing at the other end as well, Teodorczyk headed towards goal, but Romero managed to save comfortably. Rashford was really up for the match despite being isolated on the left side, he could have sent United ahead again after the hour mark, as he capitalized on an error by Appiah, but despite rounding off the keeper, he could not find the net as the former tracked back to recover his error and rob him of the ball. Acheampong was also lively at the other end, as his effort was deflected over the bar. Zlatan had his first opportunity on the 71st minute, but took a while to shoot, and the keeper was able to save. Pogba then somehow blasted the ball well over the bar when he was only a couple of yards infront of goal, as the game seemed to be heading for extra-time. Zlatan missed another opportunity as he fired well wide on the turn when he could have done better. And in the 2nd minute of added time, the big Swede took a final tumble as he attempted to head the ball, and landed awfully, with his knee buckling under his weight, forcing the change before extra-time started, with Martial being sent on.
Rashford and Pogba combined in the early minute of extra-time, the former sending a rabona-cross in for the latter to go for the spectacular himself with an overhead attempt blocked by Mbodji. Obradovic went on the counter at the other end, and his shot crept just wide as Anderlecht were not done yet. Pogba thought he had scored on the 101st minute, only to see the goal chalked off following a foul by Fellaini in the build-up. United had another scare as Tielemans’ long range effort was spilled by Romero, but the keeper was quick to get up and make a proper catch as another Anderlecht player was rushing in the box to pip the loose ball. United were ahead thou just after the mini-break on the 107th minute, as Rashford collected Fellaini’s knockdown pass, turned neatly in the box and fired home with the help of a little deflection on the way. Pogba then had another chance to put the game to bed, but somehow shot meekly as the keeper when he should have just finished the job cleanly. United’s defense was not put to rest thou, as Acheampong headed towards goal only for Romero to save. If the Belgians were to score another one, then United would be out, and this fear kept them on the attack, and although Martial found the net minutes later, his goal was correctly ruled out for an offside position. Mbodji had a last attempt for the Belgians as his header sailed over, but with replays showing that Shaw and Romero got a touch both, but the referee was adamant it was a goal-kick as the players appealed for the corner-kick. The final whistle delivered a big relief to the home fans and United players alike, under the cautious eyes of SAF in the stands, but it was really a hard fought win for the Red Devils, as they lost 2 players to injuries, and wasted pretty much of their energy as well, given that they will play again on Sunday for the EPL this time, and somewhere the manager and the players must know that they could have avoided the unnecessary extra-time if they had been more focused in normal time and scored the chances they had. Still, they made it to the semi-finals, where certainly a more tougher test will await them, and they must be physically and mentally prepared to face whatever comes in their way.