Manchester United 4-1 Real Betis: Red Devils pass key test to take commanding lead in Europa League tie
Manchester United survived another key test of their mentality by beating Real Betis 4-1 in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie.
Following the 7-0 humbling at the hands of Liverpool, which saw the Red Devils go in at half-time a goal down and feeling unfortunate, Thursday’s visit of Betis threatened to go south as well after Ayoze Perez’s superb finish sent the two sides in level at the break.
United hardly raced out the blocks for the second half yet relied on a moment of individual skill and some quick thinking by two players on the end of fierce criticism at Anfield to put the game beyond their opponents ahead of a trip to Spain next week.
Erik ten Hag laid down a challenge to his derby duds with an unchanged starting line-up at Old Trafford, speaking pre-match of “rehabilitation” for a set of players he insisted were still his best chance of building a lead to take to Seville.
It proved to be another intelligent move by the Dutch boss as United leapt ahead inside five minutes, Bruno Fernandes’ cross diverted by Luiz Felipe to Marcus Rashford, who composed himself with a cute control before lashing home his 26th goal of the season.
The hosts were in control and almost doubled their lead on multiple occasions through Rashford and Wout Weghorst. Betis, the third Spanish opponents of United’s campaign, looked more lightweight than both Barcelona and Real Sociedad yet still found a way back into the game.
Juanmi arguably controlled the ball on his arm but was saved by VAR’s rulebook when checked for teeing up Ayoze Perez, the Leicester loanee driving a sublime finish across David De Gea for 1-1 on 32 minutes.
The visitors perked up and went in at the break worthy of a level scoreline, leading to big questions being asked of United once again.
What a strike from Antony! 🎯
Defenders know what he's going to do, but they just can't stop him ✨#UEL pic.twitter.com/tB11PHzq90
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) March 9, 2023
It was Antony who dragged his team out of their slumber seven minutes into what was beginning to look like a tame second-half performance, the Brazilian graciously allowed to cut inside onto his favoured left foot by Abner Vinicius before curling an unstoppable effort past veteran goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
Before the hour mark, the game was sewn up. Shaw and Fernandes, who could have enjoyed quite a sturdy debate over who received the bigger lashing from the fans and media after Anfield, combined with a smart corner from the left meeting Fernandes’ unmarked dart to the near post for a powerful header home.
United had chances to put the tie beyond Betis and finally did after 82 minutes, Facundo Pellistri coming off the bench to tee up Scott McTominay. His shot was parried straight to Weghorst for a simple finish, wildly celebrated by the big Dutch striker in much need of a goal.