Thursday, February 25, 2016

Manchester United stage remarkable rally to beat Midtjylland

Marcus Rashford only found out he would be playing 10 minutes before kick off when Anthony Martial injured himself in the warm-up. By full-time he had scored twice, ensured Manchester United's passage to the last 16 of the Europa League and, probably, kept his manager Louis van Gaal in a job. This was one of the more remarkable debuts Old Trafford has seen.
It was only the third time the gangling 18 year old had been included in a senior squad, his presence a indication of how thinly United's resources have been spread as injuries have struck. "Marcus is explosive, he's a very talented boy but a good, hard worker as well," said United's academy director, the former midfielder Nicky Butt "He's a good lad to have in the side because he puts a shift in for the team. He's explosive and he scores goals." He did that.
Van Gaal's position remains uneasy. The general consensus is that he will leave the job at the end of the season --€“ an honourable exit for him and a face-saving exercise for the CEO Ed Woodward who appointed him --€“ but the understanding was that there were certain circumstances under which his end could be hastened. After all, United is still in the FA Cup and, with 12 games still to go, is only six points off fourth and Champions League qualification --€“ however vague, there are still achievable targets sufficiently in range for the season not to be simply written off.
Had United lost to Shrewsbury on Monday in the FA Cup, that could have been it. Had it failed to overturn a 2-1 first leg deficit here and exited the Europa League that might also have hastened Van Gaal to the exit. As it was, United produced a fine comeback against admittedly limited opposition, an own goal from Nikolay Bodurov cancelling out Pione Sisto's opener before Rashford's two second-half strikes, an Ander Herrera penalty and a late Memhis Depay strike gave United a 6-3 aggregate victory. It came far closer to losing than it ever should have done.
Whatever else has gone wrong at Old Trafford this season, whatever blame can be directed at manager and board, it can't be denied that United has been desperately unfortunate with injuries. Even before Martial's injury, Van Gaal was without 13 players, which left him fielding Michael Carrick alongside Daley Blind in the center of the defence.
United began relatively brightly but with 27 minutes played, the ball was worked in from the right by Rilwan Hassan to Marco Urena and then to Sisto. He turned rather too easily away from Blind, sidestepped a lunge from Carrick and hit a low shot back across goal and past Sergio Romero.

United, to its credit, rallied immediately and level on 32 minutes as Nikolay Bodurov, on loan at Midtjylland from Fulham, turned a low cross from Depay into his own net. After a promising start to his United career, Depay's form has been largely indifferent but he was consistently threatening here, beating the full-back Andre Romer again and again.
One of United's biggest problems this season has been a failure to convert possession into chances, but here the opportunities kept coming. Morgan Schneiderlin sent an overhead just wide and the headed against a post. And then, two minutes before half-time, Romer hacked down Ander Herrera and United had a penalty. Juan Mata's shot was low and near the corner but lacked power and was pushed to safety by Andersen. It already had the sense of being one of those nights. Van Gaal had cursed bad luck after the first leg last week, blaming "Murphy's Law" for his side's defeat, but their fortune was far worse here.
The second half began as the first had ended. Schneiderlin at the back post volleyed across the face of goal with a huge space at the near post. An unmarked Herrera headed a Depay cross wide. Midtjylland's defending was, at best, haphazard but United kept on missing chances. Eventually, 18 minutes into the second half, the goal came. Guillermo Varela's deep cross from the right found Mata and his cut-back was slammed in by Rashford.
United relaxed as it did, the goals flowed. With quarter of an hour to go, Rashford volleyed in a Varela cross to give United the aggregate lead.  A Hansen handball gave United a second penalty that Herrera converted. Romer was set off after collecting a second booking for pulling back Depay, who then capped a fine night with a crisp shot into the bottom corner from just outside the box.
The scoreline, in the end, was emphatic enough, but this was far edgier than 5-1 may seem. United, though, survived and so to, for now, will Van Gaal.

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