|Photo from 90min.com|
A frigid and wet Thursday night in Belgium saw Manchester United continue their frustrating run of failing to win following a victory in a big game. This time, the Reds played out a stalemate 1-1 draw against Club Brugge in the first leg of their Europa League Round of 32 clash.
Thankfully, this result did not come in the Premier League. United will get another crack at putting together consecutive wins in the league on Sunday when they host Watford at Old Trafford. But Thursday’s endeavor was not any less frustrating. Understandably, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer rotated quite heavily, with United set to play seven games in over the next 21 days, but the performances from the players that were given a chance left for a lot to be desired.
Of the six changes in the starting lineup, three of them involved the inclusions of Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira, and Juan Mata. On paper, three of United’s most creative players. On the pitch, they were all far from it.
United were toothless for the best part of the 90 minutes, struggling to create any clear cut chances until the latter stages following the introduction of Bruno Fernandes and Fred off the bench. The visitors’ tepid start was punished after a quarter of an hour when the back line completely switched off, allowing Brugge’s onrushing front man Emmanuel Dennis to gather the second ball and lob the wandering Sergio Romero from quite far out. It was a rare moment of madness in United’s back line as they came into this game having kept six clean sheets in their last eight in all competitions. It was also a rare error from Sergio Romero, who probably forgot what it feels like to concede a goal before Dennis got the better of him. After going behind, United regrouped, but never quite got into the flow of things in the final third. Every pass seemed a little undercooked. The interplays were sloppy. The runs and overall movement were lacking. United were a little toothless. But then up stepped Anthony Martial. Often criticized for his lack of effort, Martial chased down a ball that was overthrown from the left sideline and sped past his defender before cooly slotting home around Simon Mignolet. A sight very familiar to the Manchester United faithful. It was a much needed moment of individual brilliance to put United back on level terms and grant them an advantage in the tie via the away goal. It would also be the last moment brilliant enough to affect the scoreboard. The game ended and everyone — from the fans to the players — felt a little sour.
The game was certainly there for the taking. United barricaded Brugge deep inside their own half in the closing stages of the game and the swagger of Bruno Fernandes almost gifted United the winner. But all in all, the draw away from home in dire conditions is not a bad result by any means. United will enter next week’s second leg in pole position to advance into the round of 16 — and now a well rested side can focus solely on securing another vital set of three points in the league on the weekend as the chase for top four continues.
Sergio Romero: 7/10
A very rare error from the Argentine hurt his rating because other than being at fault for Brugge’s goal, it was yet another very solid outing from United’s No. 2 stopper.
Diogo Dalot: 5/10
Poor. Played in his favored wing back position with a lot more attacking duties, the Portuguese full back disappointed. Offered nothing going forward and ended up being hauled off when United were searching for the winner.
Victor Lindelof: 7.5/10
A solid return from illness for “The Iceman.” He slotted right back into the team alongside Maguire and Shaw in the back three and didn’t really put a foot wrong except for the collective nap the back line took during Brugge’s goal.
Harry Maguire: 7/10
Assured performance overall, but Emmanuel Dennis was a nuisance to him all night. It was clear that his size and quickness were causing United’s skipper all sorts of problems, but thankfully to not much success.
Luke Shaw: 7.5/10
It seems like Shaw may have found his ideal position. He looks very capable on the left side of a back three. Brough the ball out from the back very well and was a threat going forward, adding an extra body into United’s midfield.
Brandon Williams: 5/10
A rare below par showing from the youngster, but inconsistencies are to be expected from youth players, and that was his first game where you could accuse him of being a little off the pace. No big deal. He’ll bounce back.
Nemanja Matic: 7/10
The Serb has turned into a bit of a midfield general for United in Scott McTominay’s absence. Overall, it was a good performance where he didn’t do anything great or anything terrible. It was a standard Nemanja Matic midfield showing. A touch too slow getting the ball forward at times.
Andreas Pereira: 6/10
Poor. Tested Mignolet once early in the first half and that’s about it. Never really found his feet in the game and couldn’t create anything going forward. Was also often caught out of position in midfield defensively.
Juan Mata: 6.5/10
This was one of those Juan Mata performances that you hate to see. As the rest of the team, the Spaniard was toothless. He couldn’t really find the key passes, nor could they find him in between the lines.
Jesse Lingard: 5.5/10
The ghost of Jesse Lingard continues to haunt United. Not sure where the “JLingz” of old has gone. He made some decent runs into space at times, but his end product was woeful.
Anthony Martial: 8/10
The Savior. Ran his socks off in the 67 minutes that he was on the pitch. A fantastic solo goal to bring United level. Two goals in two games after the winter break for the Frenchman, and long may that run continue.
Odion Ighalo: 6.5/10
Held the ball up well and was very energetic, but not quite as efficient. He never really got a clear cut goal scoring opportunity, but credit to him for trying to put his stamp on the game. He’ll come good.
Changed the game when introduced along with Bruno. The little Brazilian has become the cornerstone of United’s midfield. He is a one man engine room. Excellent in winning the ball back and passing it into the channels in the final third. Got a well deserved rest ahead of Sunday, too.
Bruno Fernandes: 8/10
Incrível. Just class. Exactly what United have been missing all season. He is a magician with the ball at his feet. Bruno almost single handedly dragged United to a victory and he only had about 10 minutes on the pitch. The difference he made immediately after checking into the game was glaring. Also well rested now ahead of Sunday’s crucial league game.