Manchester United v Anderlecht: Five things we learned as Marcus Rashford rises to the occasion once again

Samuel Lovett, Luke Brown
The Independent
Marcus Rashford celebrates his goal for United: Getty
Marcus Rashford celebrates his goal for United: Getty

Marcus Rashford struck late in extra-time at Old Trafford to secure a 2-1 victory for Manchester United in their second-leg quarter-final tie with Anderlecht.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan's early goal suggested the home side were in for an easy run but Anderlecht soon hit back through Sofiane Hanni.

From there, Mourinho's men struggled to find a breakthrough as the visitors held on to force extra-time.

United eventually found their goal through the youngster, however, to win 3-2 on aggregate and progress to the last four of the competition.

Here's five things we learned:

United in touching distance of salvaging their season

"This is not a competition that Manchester United wants." It's been eight months since Jose Mourinho first uttered these words as he lamented United's omission from the Champions League. How times have since changed. Their hopes of finishing in the top four are fading fast but there's no doubt that United are now in touching distance of salvaging their season through the Europa League.

It's been a mediocre first term under Mourinho but, with just three wins to go, the club stand a genuine chance of securing their place in Europe's elite competition and returning to where they belong. They may have strained their way past Anderlecht tonight but if their recent performance against Chelsea is anything to go by, we know they have the ability to win this tournament.

Mourinho barks instructions from the touchline (Getty)
Mourinho barks instructions from the touchline (Getty)

Mourinho unsure on Shaw?

So, once again, the much-maligned Luke Shaw made his return to the starting XI. After Mourinho seemingly confirmed that the full-back's United career was over earlier in the month, the Portuguese then went on to recall the youngster for his side's domestic clashes with Everton and Sunderland. There was no role for Shaw in the recent crunch clash with Chelsea but his inclusion in the side tonight suggests the full-back very much remains on probation. His performance suggested why Mourinho might remain undecided on the youngster.

Shaw impressed on the front foot down the left, repeatedly getting in behind the visitors' defence to make a nuisance of himself. Indeed, it was his run 10 minutes into the second half that almost set United up for a second as he flashed the ball across the mouth of the goal, only for Jesse Lingard to miss his chance. But yet, the defender still looked unsure of himself on occasion and was guilty of some sloppy passes here and there. He's got a long way to go until he's back in Mourinho's good books but at least he's moving in the right direction

Rashford man of the moment again

Marcus Rashford was quite simply irresistible against Chelsea last Sunday. It was a performance that brought a jolt of electricity to United's game, injecting Mourinho's men with a sense of urgency that has been missing in recent weeks. As such, it was always going to be interesting to see how the youngster would fare tonight.

Lining up against Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rashford brought a different kind of dynamism to United's frontline with his direct running and powerful bursts of pace. It was a confident performance, too, with the youngster trying his luck with a number of audacious shots from outside the box. The one-on-one with Anderlecht's Rubén Iván Martínez was his big moment to shine and prevent the game going to extra-time, but he was unable to deliver. Nonetheless, he made up for his earlier transgression to clinch the winner with a composed and mature finish in the second-half of extra-time. Rashford is back and looks set to stay.

Rashford leaps clear of Ruben (Getty)
Rashford leaps clear of Ruben (Getty)

Tielemans catches the eye

This has been the year talented young players have lit up Europe’s premier club competitions. In the Champions League the likes of Kylian Mbappé, Ousmane Dembélé and Paulo Dybala have offered a fans a glimpse into a post Ronaldo and Messi era, while in the Europa League Anderlecht’s Youri Tielemans has shone with a series of impressive performances, along with United's Rashford.

The talented midfielder has already scored three goals in the competition this series and, although he did not add to his tally against United, he did set up his side’s opener, when his thumping drive cannoned off the crossbar before the rebound was converted by Sofiane Hanni. Positive, bright and brave, Tielemans’ dribbling and speed of thought repeatedly caught the eye. The 19-year-old seems destined for the very top.

Youri Tielemans has started to make a name for himself (Getty)
Youri Tielemans has started to make a name for himself (Getty)

Rojo injury cause for concern

It is no exaggeration to say that Manchester United are in the midst of a defensive crisis. With so many huge games still remaining for Mourinho’s side – as they attempt to put together a late run into the top four of the Premier League – United look desperately short at the back, with Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and now Macros Rojo all out injured.

Mourinho will just hope that Rojo’s injury is not as serious as it initially appeared. The Argentine went down holding his knee after just twenty minutes, although picked himself up and signalled to the bench that he wanted to continue. But only two minutes later he was down on the deck once again, after limping into a tackle with Anderlecht’s Frank Acheampong, and falling into an undignified heap on the floor. Untied can ill afford his injury to be a significant one.

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