Manchester United proceeded to the semifinals of the Europa League after extra time in a thrilling match that showed their greatest strengths and their deepest weaknesses in the most vivid detail. They were at times excellent in their buildup play, but were too often woeful in front of goal and uncertain in defence.
The hosts prevailed 2-1 Thursday and 3-2 on aggregate against an endlessly shrewd Anderlecht side. Though outmatched in the creative department, Anderlecht took their opportunity well and were perhaps unlucky not to take this game, in the end, to a penalty shootout. United’s Marcus Rashford, who scored the winner, and Paul Pogba were as influential as they had been against Chelsea, and manager Jose Mourinho will be relieved to see his team continue to show a winning mentality.
Pogba was majestic from start to finish; not only was his passing outstanding over long and short distances alike, but his intensity when defending was high and constant. Rashford, though he missed a clear opportunity in the second half, was superb in every other aspect of his game — and then was rewarded for his persistence with a beautifully taken winner.
The first-half injury to Marcos Rojo, which made the defence look instantly and significantly more vulnerable, and the second-half injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Unfortunately, the back four had subpar games, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, despite his goal, did not produce nearly enough. This game should have been over in normal time.
7 — Mourinho chose a lineup that should have won the game with a great deal to spare, but was let down for a long period by its poor finishing. However, he cannot escape criticism altogether — he introduced Anthony Martial about half an hour later than he perhaps should have, at a time when United particularly needed pace in attack. Having said that, Mourinho’s addition of Marouane Fellaini eventually played a role in his team’s winner.
GK Sergio Romero, 6 — A mixed evening. Punched the ball away with authority on a couple of occasions and made a couple of good saves at close quarters, but almost spilled the ball at the feet of an onrushing forward in extra time and did not wholly inspire confidence.
DF Antonio Valencia, 4 — Looked as unsettled as he has looked in a United shirt. His poor back-header almost led to an Anderlecht goal in the first half, his poor positioning made him complicit in the one time they did score, and in extra time he made a gift of the ball to one of their attackers. Very much unlike him, and surely only a blip.
DF Marcos Rojo, 7 — The degree to which United struggled after he went off with injury shows, remarkably, just how important he has become to this team. Passed the ball and patrolled his area with authority.
DF Eric Bailly, 6 — Was below his best for much of this match, and was caught out of position on at least two notable occasions. But he recovered by the end, keeping his energy and awareness high as most around him tired.
DF Luke Shaw, 6 — Some superb work in attack, including a chance laid on for Jesse Lingard, but let himself down with some of his positioning. A run of games should see this sharpness improve.
MF Michael Carrick, 7 — Played his usual calm, controlled game, with some excellent passes to feet throughout the match — prompt and precise as ever. Was outmatched for speed by the much younger opposition but was crucial in making the link between defence and attack.
MF Paul Pogba, 9 — Magnificent, as he had been against Chelsea, with even more of a rounded performance. Defensively resolute and creatively inspired; his pass to Rashford that led to the game’s opening goal was one of the best Old Trafford has seen this season, and he could have scored with a header and a wonderful overhead kick.
MF Jesse Lingard, 5 — Had a poor game; he pressed well and worked very hard off the ball, as always, but was poor at linking up the play, with few of his passes going to feet in vital areas, and he inexplicably missed a chance that Shaw drove across the face of goal. Was withdrawn for Fellaini.
MF Henrik Mkhitaryan, 5 — A strange game in that he scored a fine goal but contributed very little else for long periods, losing possession on a handful occasions in positions that either hindered his team’s attack or put them in defensive danger. Made an outstanding late dribble, beating a cluster of men, which only highlighted how subdued he had been before.
MF Marcus Rashford, 8 — Was everywhere. His work ethic was terrific, he frequently closed down his opposite man or beat him on the dribble, and the only negative against his performance was his finishing — he missed two good chances, one of them clear-cut. However, he redeemed all that with an extra-time finish of rare composure and brilliance, a Cruyff turn that eliminated two defenders and then a low left-foot drive.
FW Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 4 — Looked somewhat out of the flow of the game all evening; his linkup play lacked precision, resulting in over-hit passes, and his attempts at finishing were worryingly lacking in conviction. An unhappy evening was capped by a nasty-looking knee injury. Fingers are crossed that such a vital figure at the club will recover soon.
DF Daley Blind, 5 (for Marcos Rojo, 23) — Looked unsure of himself from the moment he came on and was exposed by the speed and subtlety of the visitors’ movement. Perhaps rusty for a game of this intensity.
MF Marouane Fellaini, 7 (for Lingard, 60) — Took some fluidity from United’s play but did add an attacking option, was disciplined in possession, and was instrumental in their winning goal.
FW Anthony Martial, NR (for Ibrahimovic, 91) — Added vital pace when he was introduced — perhaps half an hour too late, it must be said — and his movement almost brought him a decisive goal.