A long and hot night of football in Cologne came to an end as the scoreline did not do justice to the heroics on the pitch with Manchester United progressing to the semi-final of the Europa League on the back of a 1-0 win against FC Copenhagen.
The Red Devils had several attempts to their name and a goal and a penalty ruled out by VAR but went ahead only due to a penalty won in extra time that Bruno Fernandes made no mistake in burying.
1. All the Way?
Ole Gunnar Solskjær may not be too far away from his first piece of managerial silverware after this win. While most of the pre-game talk revolved around how this was likely to be a cakewalk for the Red Devils, the Norwegian gaffer maintained that it would not be an easy game to win and that certainly proved to be so in the end.
Two more wins to a trophy and a good end to his first full and long season, can he do it for the side?
2. Mason Greenwood
Had his goal not been ruled offside in the build-up, the youngster could have set an enviable record, becoming the first United teenager to have netted 18 goals in a single season, ahead of the likes of George Best and Wayne Rooney. He also had a close chance hit the woodwork later on but was unable to ape his otherwise deft two-footedness.
However, he certainly has at least one more game to set that vital record and he himself may be eyeing the full 20 still.
There was certainly a surprise waiting in the starting lineup at the inclusion of Fred ahead of Nemanja Matic. The Brazilian, who was having a stellar season of redemption at Old Trafford prior to Paul Pogba’s recovery, did display how the side could lineup when they don’t need to rely on the Serb.
While he was prone to many clearance errors and lacked Matic’s ease at supporting the defense, the quality of some of his passes does make it seem likely that Solskjær will experiment with this midfield trio more often.
4. Goalkeeper Spectacular
While much has been said about how good Sergio Romeo has been for United in the Europa League, this fixture had just one goalkeeper to talk about and Karl-Johan Johnsson certainly hogged the talking points.
Undoubtedly Copenhagen’s best player, the shotstopper was impeccable in his ability to defend and deflect everything United threw at him, with their 14 shots on target all in vain. Alas, he couldn’t stop Fernandes’ decisive kick of the ball but this performance may have just got him on someone’s radar.
5. Fernandes’ Penalty Trick
While it often looks like there are a lot of mind games at play in taking a penalty, on Monday night Fernandes displayed it outright. He scored the goal without doing his characteristic jump. As such, he accurately fooled Johnsson who guessed perfectly where his shot was going to go but, like most fans, was anticipating a jump and a pause.
The choice from the Portuguese midfielder to not take the penalty in the style that has come to be expected of him may have made all the difference in the end.
6. Semi-Finals Ahead
With this hard-won victory, United don’t exactly have an easy path ahead of them. Their semi-final opponent will be one amongst Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sevilla. Wolves have caused them plenty of trouble domestically before and there is no reason to think that if they can somehow get past Sevilla, they’ll be fancying their chances against their co-Premier League side.
However, in-form Sevilla have enough brilliance of their own to put up a decent showing and it will be interesting to see how things develop going forward.
7. Rashford’s Woes
One thing that would have caused some concern to fans is how poorly Marcus Rashford performed on the night. The English forward wasn’t up to his usual best and seemed tired. The fact that he appeared to have picked up a slight groin issue prior to being subbed off won’t make matters any better either.
Supporters will be desperately hoping that he regains his full fitness and form ahead of the semi-final clash. Incidentally, such performances and the potential of injury to him make the prospect of signing a versatile player like Jadon Sancho all the more necessary. Is Ed Woodward paying attention though?