Man United edge past Anderlecht in extra time, reach Europa League semis
MANCHESTER, England -- Three thoughts from Old Trafford as Marcus Rashford's extra-time goal on Thursday gave Man United a 2-1 win (3-2 aggregate) over Anderlecht in the Europa League quarterfinals...
1. Rashford saves Mourinho with crucial late winner
Marcus Rashford might just be hitting form at the perfect time for Manchester United. The teenager spared manager Jose Mourinho's blushes after a miscalculated selection gamble against Anderlecht, and now may have to carry the club to Europa League glory because Zlatan Ibrahimovic has suffered a worrisome injury. Rashford's goal meant that United squeezed into the semifinals at the expense of the Belgian league leaders.
Rashford's extra-time winner at Old Trafford sealed a 2-1 victory Thursday, with United winning 3-2 on aggregate, but Mourinho's team made hard work of the second leg. The manager has only himself to blame for his team's performance after choosing to make changes to the side that destroyed Chelsea at the weekend.
Out went Ander Herrera, Sunday's star man against Antonio Conte's team, and in came Michael Carrick, with Ibrahimovic returning to the starting lineup up front. The game plan that tore Chelsea apart was ripped up, and United were once again ponderous and predictable after scoring just once in a bright start.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan's 10th-minute opener should have been the first goal of several, but United missed good chances and allowed Anderlecht to equalise through Sofiane Hanni on 31 minutes. United's Paul Pogba was unable to control the game, and United teetered on the brink of an exit as the visitors poured forward.
But after Ibrahimovic limped off on 90 minutes with what appears to be a bad knee injury, Rashford was deployed through the middle once again in extra time. He scored the winner from that position to cap an outstanding personal performance, and Mourinho unquestionably needs more of the same from the 19-year-old between now and the end of the season.
2. Pogba must keep it simple in order to impress
Pogba, 24, is trying too hard to justify his world-record £89 million price tag, as has been the case for months. At some point, the French midfielder will learn that simplicity is the secret to success at United, and his stunning pass to Rashford, which led to Henrikh Mkhitaryan's opener inside the first 10 minutes, should act as a lesson to the former Juventus man.
On that occasion, Pogba picked up the ball and released it immediately, cutting the Anderlecht defence apart and making a direct contribution to a goal. But all too often, he holds on to the ball too long, ignores better-positioned teammates, or commits a needless foul -- generally creating more problems for United than he solves.
Watching Juventus progress to the Champions League semifinals might irk Pogba, but Juve's success this season highlights the quality that helped Pogba become the world's most expensive player last summer. Yet he is playing in a much weaker team at United and trying to do too much to make up for his new club's deficiencies.
All he really needs to do is get back to basics. Once he does that, he will begin to be the player United expected when he arrived.
3. Rojo injury leaves Mourinho with problems
The loss of Marcos Rojo to a first-half injury threatens to leave Mourinho with a big problem for United's remaining games this season. Scans may show that the Argentine has been fortunate and hasn't suffered ligament damage to his knee, but as he was carried off on a stretcher, the prospects of him recovering in time to face Burnley on Sunday or Manchester City next Thursday appeared slim.
With Phil Jones and Chris Smalling already ruled out by Mourinho until mid-May, United may be forced to play with just one fit centre-half (Eric Bailly) for the next month, and the club's workload is not light.
On Wednesday, Smalling raised hope of an earlier-than-expected comeback by posting pictures on social media of him running on an underwater treadmill, but the England defender is nowhere near a first-team return. So it leaves Mourinho with Daley Blind as a makeshift centre-half, and the Dutchman, who is no stranger to the role, struggled to impress after replacing Rojo against Anderlecht.
Mourinho could turn to Michael Carrick as an emergency centre-half, but such a move would take the 35-year-old out of midfield and cause another problem. There is also the untested youngster, Axel Tuanzebe.
Whichever way Mourinho looks at it, he is running short of options, and any injury to Bailly would be disastrous.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_