Rashford's last-minute goal pushes Man Utd into Europa semis
'Difficult' game against Anderlecht leaves Jose Mourinho with two men out and a struggle ahead
Manchester United 2 Anderlecht 1 [United win 3-2 on aggregate]
An extra-time goal from Marcus Rashford secured United's place in the last four of the Europa League but their victory came at a price. Marcus Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic left the field injured and Jose Mourinho later admitted the pair could be out for a while.
Ibrahimovic's evening concluded at the end of normal time when the Swede twisted his right knee and hobbled off in pain. Until then the veteran striker had struggled to make much of an impression in the second leg of the semi-final against a determined and well-organised Belgian side.
But Ibrahimovic’s departure actually added impetus to the United attack, allowing the introduction of Anthony Martial, who replaced Marcus Rashford out wide on the left while the young England striker moved into a more central position up front. And it was Rashford who found the winning goal, on 107 minutes, with a sharp swivel and finish from Marouane Fellaini's knockdown.
The goal came 97 minutes after United had taken the lead through Henrikh Mkhitaryan's low drive. But instead of going on to dominate their visitors, United missed a string of chances and allowed Anderlecht back into the game when Sofiane Hanni scrambled the ball into the net after 32 minutes.
"It was a difficult game, a difficult opponent, I am tired," said Mourinho, at the end of an encounter that sees United progress to the semi-final alongside Lyon, Ajax and Celta Vigo. "I imagine the players are more tired than me but we are in the draw [on Friday] and we still have the dream to win the competition."
With United fifth in the Premier League, one spot away from qualification for next season's Champions League, the Europa League represents another route to Europe's showpiece tournament, the reason why Mourinho is determined to win the competition. "While mathematically it is possible in the Premier League, we have to fight for it," he said. "If one day it is not mathematically possible we have to put everything in the Europa League because the Europa League is an important title, and on top of that the bonus of playing in the Champions League. We had today an example of how difficult it is and we now have a Spanish team, a French team and Ajax [in the semi-final draw] so we are not expecting anything easy.”
Although he expressed his concern about the extent of the injuries suffered by Rojo and Ibrahimovic, Mourinho refrained from speculating on how long they might be sidelined, instead saying he would wait to see the results of their medical scans. However, he was more forthcoming about the impact of Marcus Rashford. "His quality is fantastic," he said. "Some other players don’t realise what makes me trust a player and Marcus I trust. It doesn’t matter, score or doesn’t score, he is fantastic in his effort and attitude."