It was a dull affair at the Los Cármenes, but Manchester United were able to return to England with a two-goal lead against Granada in the Europa League, courtesy of goals from Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes.
It was a game which saw seven yellow cards and five of those were to United players. Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay will miss the second-leg at Old Trafford, which gave Fernandes’ late goal even more importance.
This will not be a game which fills Ole Gunnar Solskjær with confidence, but they got the job done yet again and will be confident of heading into the semi-final after next weeks contest.
Story of the game
In a quiet opening 15 minutes, there were limited chances for The Reds as they struggled to get to grips with the game as Granada was applying the pressure. A long ball from Paul Pogba that found Rashford in behind the Granada backline did not end successfully, but was an early indicator of the space available.
As the half progressed, United began to take control of possession, but their sloppy play on the ball made it difficult for them to put Granada to the sword. Nevertheless, Solskjær’s men started to create some chances, with Scott McTominay in particular, supplying his frontmen with multiple impressive passes.Embed from Getty Images
26 minutes into the affair, the Scotsman fizzed a pass into Rashford on the counter-attack, and United’s number ten expertly controlled the ball and played the ball into Bruno Fernandes inside the area but his shot towards the host’s goal was blocked. The ball fell back towards Rashford, who took a speculative effort from outside of the area.
It was just four minutes later where the 23-year-old was able to find the back of the net and open the scoring for United; notching his 20th goal in all competitions for the side.
David de Gea played short to Victor Lindelöf and the Swede brought the ball up the pitch before aiming a perfect pass over the top of the Granada backline. It was Rashford who made an expertly-timed run and then produced an equally impressive touch. After plucking the ball from the sky, the forward calmly placed the ball beyond Rui Silva and gave United the lead.
However, United failed to capitalise on going ahead and were unable to conjure up any clear chances in the first-half. It was the Spanish side that went closest to scoring, with Antonio Puertas hitting the woodwork with a volley following a long free-kick; however it seemed that the United goalkeeper had his angles covered.
The second half wasn’t much better for the viewing experience as United nor Granada looked particularly dangerous in possession. The hosts started to have a better spell mid-way through the half but this was partly due to a lack of urgency from The Reds in possession.
On 69 minutes, Mason Greenwood lost the ball in a central area and in the counter-attack the ball fell to Puertas on the left but his cross into the box was blocked well by Lindelöf.
It looked like United were going to double their lead 10 minutes from the finish when Daniel James drove into the box from the left and played a reverse pass to the overlapping Fernandes but his shot was smothered by the goalkeeper and it seemed that United were going to be returning to Old Trafford next week with a slender 1-0 lead.
However, in the final minutes of the game, United were rewarded a penalty as Fernandes was fouled inside of the area. Alex Telles whipped the ball into the area but Fernandes’ run was obstructed by Yan Eteki and the defender was shown a yellow card.
The Portuguese midfielder has missed just once from the spot since joining The Red Devils and he was lucky that it remained like that after his spot-kick was helped into the back of the net by Silva.
Solskjær didn’t care how it went in though and he will be happy to return to Manchester with a two-goal lead and it means that United are going to be very comfortable going into the second-leg.
Rashford secures his 20th goal
There were eyebrows raised when Rashford was one of the eleven names on the team-sheet for the game. The attacker limped off of the pitch against Brighton & Hove Albion last Sunday.
While many wanted the Englishmen to be rested, it was his (and Lindelöf’s) quality which gave United the lead in a match where there was little quality to be seen.Embed from Getty Images
With 20 goals to his name this season, as well as 11 assists, Rashford is showing that his great season last year was no coincidence and that he has taken major strides towards being a top player.
In just 66 minutes, the winger was able to produce yet another match-winning moment and help his team win the match.