Safe passage to the next week’s Europa League mini-tournament in Germany was never in doubt for Manchester United, as anyone watching this lukewarm 2-1 win over LASK Linz at Old Trafford could tell.

A five-goal first-leg lead meant Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were never in danger of missing out on a fortnight in Cologne even though they had to come behind to avoid a second defeat in four games.

Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial overturned Phillip Wiesinger’s spectacular 25-yard strike to claim a 7-1 aggregate win. Lingard’s equaliser was his second goal in as many games after an otherwise barren 18-month spell and though he departed as a frustrated substitute shortly after, he gave himself a chance of starting Monday’s quarter-final against Copenhagen.

Sharing the full story, not just the headlines

The same cannot be said for many of the others out on the pitch. Solskjaer made just two changes to the starting line-up which secured that 5-0 victory behind closed doors in Austria back in mid-March, though only Lingard, Juan Mata, cup goalkeeper Sergio Romero and the ever-present Harry Maguire can have much hope of substantial minutes if Solskjaer decides to field his first-choice line-up for the rest of the tournament.

Given United’s lead, nobody anticipated an evening of high-octane entertainment but the first half failed to even live up to those modest expectations. United only managed two shots on goal. Both were Maguire headers. Both were from corners. Both were off target.

At least LASK came closer, with Maguire’s fellow centre-half Andres Andrade reacting quickest to a corner that was only half-cleared and nodding a bouncing ball against the crossbar.

Dominik Thalhammer’s visitors were more productive than their hosts and took a deserved lead at the start of the second half through Wiesinger’s strike from distance. Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s clearance of a corner left much to be desired but he could not foresee Wiesinger’s clean first-time strike towards the top right-hand corner and goalkeeper Sergio Romero could not stop it.

That proved to be just what United needed to awaken them from their slumber. Mata’s cute pass around the corner caught out LASK’s sleepy defensive line and fed Lingard, who still had a lot of ground to cover.

Once one-on-one with goalkeeper Alexander Schlager, he delayed his shot a little too long and was almost caught out by the recovering defender, though finished just in time to equalise.

The final half hour was played at a meandering pace and contained only two highlights. The 18-year-old centre-half Teden Mengi, who has come on leaps and bounds within United’s youth set-up this season, was handed his full debut, replacing Fosu-Mensah for the final six minutes. Martial was brought on with him and scored the winning goal moments later, latching onto Mata’s through ball and finishing sweetly.

United will need to improve on this performance in order to fulfill Solskjaer’s wishes and crown their successful return to the Champions League with a trophy, but their immediate task was reaching the last eight in Cologne, and that particular job was done some 147 days ago.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like

‘We need clarity’: Newcastle manager wants answers as Saudi takeover drags into FOURTH MONTH and Premier League refuses to comment

Newcastle closed their Premier League campaign on Sunday with a 3-1 home defeat to champions Liverpool but face a summer of uncertainty at all levels regarding the status of the proposed £300 million ($385 million) bid from a consortium primarily…

Million-dollar paydays on hold after PFL postpones ENTIRE season as coronavirus rings final bell on organization’s 2020 plans

The decision by the US competition to pull all of its fights in 2020 is a bold and surprising move given that its program was expected to start in May, by which time the nation’s president, Donald Trump, has bullishly…

What can we learn from the strangest of Champions Leagues?

After Bayern Munich offered the statement win that will be remembered, Paris Saint-Germain’s Ander Herrera offered the statement that resonated. The midfielder had been asked whether he’d become accustomed to playing without supporters, and responded abrasively. “It’s shit”. Out of…

What’s next for NASCAR?

Midweek races. Inverted fields. No practice. NASCAR’s return after a 10-week suspension because of the COVID-19 pandemic comes with a much different look out of necessity. But could some of the changes taking place become more permanent? The sport is…