Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Five things we learned as Manchester United took a step towards the Europa League final

Marcus Rashford scored a stunning free-kick in the second half

Jack Austin
Thursday 04 May 2017 21:23 BST
Rashford fired in a stunning second-half free-kick
Rashford fired in a stunning second-half free-kick (Getty)

Throwback Thursday for Aspas

If three years ago, when Iago Aspas’ awful corner led to Chelsea scoring their second at Anfield to take the league away from Liverpool, you were told he would be “United’s biggest threat” in a European semi-final there is a good chance you’d be wheeled off to the looney bin. However, that’s exactly what he was billed as. Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona’s ‘MSN’ have scored more La Liga goals than the former Red this season, after all. But in reality, he looked more like that Liverpool player than a rejuvenated assassin. He missed a decent chance, his first touch was poor and his gave away a lot of foolish free-kicks as his frustrations grew.

Aspas failed to live up to his billing before the game (Getty)

Mourinho’s mind-games working

Jose Mourinho’s narrative about United’s fatigue had clearly worked if only just by listening to the commentary in the television coverage. Celta Vigo have played nearly as many games as United this season, and with a poorer squad, but it has not been mentioned. It provides Mourinho not only an excuse for Thursday night – if he needed it – but also one for the Arsenal game on Sunday and both the second leg and the Tottenham game next week. It takes the pressure off the players and it was evident how perfectly it had worked just listening to the broadcast.

Mourinho kept talking about United's tiredness in the lead up to the game (Getty)

Rashford is a centre forward, not a wide man

Just because Marcus Rashford is one of the quickest players in England, doesn’t immediately make him a winger, and United seem to have realised that now. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the side Rashford was pushed out wide, but in his absence the teenager is looking back to his best. Aside from the goal, as a centre forward, he was allowed to naturally run into channels and drag the centre-backs out of position, something that was often exploited by the likes of Jesse Lingard and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. He also showed great strength to hold off the Celta defence and set up Lingard – although perhaps he would have been better off being a tad more selfish in that situation. He did just that in the second half, however this time he would have been better served with a pass. But he is still learning though, and it was a hell of a free-kick.

Mkhitaryan loves the Europa League

Boy, does this guy like the Europa League? Mkhitaryan put in another sterling attacking performance and was United’s most creative outlet throughout. He missed a couple of chances he should have scored – most notably when Paul Pogba put him through – but his work rate was phenomenal. By the end of the first half he had completed more successful tackles than any other player on the pitch and was perhaps the only United player who showed a real sense of urgency at Balaidos.

Pogba failed to control the game – but still looked superb

Paul Pogba was impressive - but is still not looking like an £89m player (Getty)

There was no control in the midfield and it was there for Pogba to dictate and grab the game by the scruff of the neck. He made a bursting run for which he should have been awarded a free-kick midway through the first half, and then a second towards the end, which should have ended in a Mkhitaryan goal. It was certainly one of his better games, but, given his strength, skill and passing ability, he should be dominating games like this. Perhaps it is a little harsh to criticise him for his performance, but given his price-tag he is always going to gather more harsh reviews than glowing ones. He is still in the shadow of that and until he starts dictating games, it will always be used against him.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in