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Five talking points as Manchester United progress to the Europa League quarters



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Credit: IMAGO / News Images

Manchester United secured progression to the quarter-final of the Europa League with a win away to Real Betis, courtesy of a Marcus Rashford screamer.

Manchester United were made to work for the win, with the hosts being very much up for the game and making their intent to attack United clear from the beginning.

Erik ten Hag‘s Reds conceded a number of chances and were lucky to go without conceding, although created plenty of their own chances to score. Ironically it ended up being Marcus Rashford pulling a goal from almost nowhere that put them a goal up in the second half.

Here are five things UtdDistrict learnt from the win in Seville:

1) Marcus magic makes the difference once again

He was having a very poor night in front of the goal, having missed multiple high-quality chances. But one of the things that separates the best from the rest is their mentality to keep going, and when Rashford picked the ball up around 30 yards out from goal he simply said to himself “*** it, I’m Marcus Rashford” and the rest was settled.

Rashford is having his best ever season, and in the past where confidence may have hindered him it certainly isn’t anymore. He terrorised the Betis full-back all the way up until his substitution and having been called up to Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad, he will surely have made his case to be a guaranteed starter.

2) Pellistri gets his chance and performs

With Antony missing out due to illness, Facundo Pellistri was finally given his first Manchester United start. Fans had been clamouring for the young Uruguayan to get his opportunity for a few weeks after a number of strong cameos, and going forwards he will have given Ten Hag a lot to think about.

Pellistri was a real thorn in the side of Betis, constantly causing problems with his direct ball carrying, willingness to go both inside and outside, and clever movement off the ball. He makes himself incredibly hard to pick up, and whilst he did not get a goal or assist in tonight’s game he certainly left his mark on it.

3) United really need a new midfielder

With all due respect to him, when 41-year-old Joaquin is able to run back the years against you in a European knockout tie then it says a lot about your team’s ability to control games.

Tonight was yet another end-to-end game and it is becoming far too consistently the case for United. The team still lacks a real ball handler in midfield who can dictate the flow of games and beat pressure consistently, and it will hold United back under Erik ten Hag until they have that profile of midfielder. Needs to be the #1 target in the summer window.

4) Fernandes & Casemiro keep their cool

Casemiro and Bruno Fernandes both went into tonight’s game facing a suspension for the next leg in the tie if they picked up a yellow card, and given some struggles in recent weeks in this regard for the Brazilian, United fans were understandably concerned.

Fernandes was smartly subbed off by Ten Hag after a top performance, giving him some rest before Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Fulham, but Casemiro lasted the full 90 and did so without even giving away a foul. Ten Hag will have had a word with him after his sending-off last Sunday, and Casemiro looks to have taken those words on board.

5) Sancho shines bright in cameo

Jadon Sancho came off the bench, and despite one poor moment when through on goal (it was later ruled offside) he had a promising performance in which he looked more like the Sancho of old.

The Englishman was left out of Southgate’s squad for the upcoming qualifiers and responded well with a brave and positive performance where he was perhaps unlucky to not have an assist after a clever layoff for Wout Weghorst. More of this, over a larger stretch of minutes, and he will have a real chance at winning his starting spot back.