Manchester United are through to the last eight of another European competition. The Red Devils, despite all the ‘obstacles’ came away with a 1-0 victory which will be remembered for a long time for reasons plenty, with the result itself not being one of them.
United went into the game with a bit of suspicion in their minds planted by a rather dangerously slender advantage via the away goal they had scored in Russia. Mourinho started the game with a back three for the third consecutive time – this time Eric Bailly getting a taste of the formation which has been successful for the current Premier League leaders.
After a cagey start, the home side shifted gears and tested Rostov’s goalkeeper a few times, the woodwork coming to the rescue once and the Red Devils found themselves constantly torn between conscious defending and perilous adventure as the first half naturally ended 0-0.
But the second half brought with it less in terms of goal-mouth action but more in drama and sheer randomness, which had nothing to do with the actual football. Juan Mata, struck home the all-important goal like the Spanish 28-year old has been doing all season – but it was the forced substitutions, hexagonal pegs in triangular holes and a banana intervention to combat fatigue that contributed to the chaotic beauty of what was otherwise a dully ordinary game of football.
The romance was well and truly alive on Thursday and who could have thought we would be talking about romance and Europa League in the same breath?
A hamstring injury to Paul Pogba three minutes into the second half led to the first forced substitution of the match as Marouane Fellaini came on to shore up the midfield. Another injury to Daley Blind – a suspected concussion, saw Phil Jones brought on to play left wing back, which will only be less weirder than the short time he was assigned to take corners for Manchester United.
Sergio Romero found himself called upon to avoid any late disaster as the Argentine second-choice goalkeeper, who is also incidentally a free transfer like top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, made two spectacular saves, particularly the diving effort deep into stoppage time to deny a late free kick from going into the net.
Romero has been as good a keeper as one could wish for in someone that is expected to fill in for arguably the best shot-stopper in the world in David De Gea – and he has performed with admirable consistency doing more than enough justice to his inclusion despite the little game time he is getting at United.
All in all, United have given themselves a very good chance to making it to the semi-finals of a tournament they may need to win, to make it to the group stages of Europe’s premier competition next season. Having been pitted against Belgian side Anderlecht through the draw that was held in Nyon, the Red Devils and Jose Mourinho will be quietly confident about reaching the last four, which also saw the second and third favourites in Lyon and Besiktas to face each other, which is even better news for the competition’s favourites.
Jose Mourinho attracted further attention towards the mounting pile of fixtures in April – with the two legs of the quarter-finals now played either side of Chelsea’s visit to Old Trafford, which may after all hinder their ambitions to qualify for the Champions League via finishing in the top four, a route that now looks increasingly harder to navigate.
“We have lots of enemies. Normally the enemies should be Rostov but we have a lot of enemies. It’s difficult to play Monday with 10 men, it’s difficult to play now, it’s difficult to play 12 o’clock on Sunday. We have a lot of enemies. A lot of people might say we should have scored more goals. But a lot of things are going against us. The boys are amazing boys. We will probably lose the game on Sunday. Fatigue has a price.”
The Portuguese might be right as fatigue does indeed have a price. But he will hope it does not cost them a place in the Champions League next campaign.