The first goal of Odion Igalo’s loan spell was the highlight of another comfortable win for Manchester United, who progressed past Club Brugge and into Friday’s Europa League round of 16 draw with ease.
Anthony Martial’s first-leg away goal left United in a strong position but progression was never in doubt once Bruno Fernandes scored his second penalty in as many games, capitalising on Simon Deli’s sending off for handball.
Scott McTominay, making his full return from a knee ligament injury, added a third and his midfield partner Fred scored twice to round off a night that will boost Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s hopes of success in this competition.
This was only the second time United have scored five at Old Trafford since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement and it was up there with the best all-round performances of Solskjaer’s tenure. The only concern will be the absence of Martial, who was sidelined after picking up a muscle injury in training.
Solskjaer has made one consistent demand of his players – play fast – and though United can often be ponderous in possession they were anything but during the breathless opening stages. And Brugge, initially, gave as good as they got.
Imagine all the vibrant, attacking play we could have seen if it hadn’t taken four minutes and 26 seconds to check Deli’s sending off. The Brugge centre-half had blatantly handled inside the area, stretching his arm out to parry Daniel James’s strike, but the officials consulted VAR to verify whether he had denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity.
Fernandes waited patiently to take the penalty. Once the red card was finally confirmed, he sent Mignolet the wrong way with his customary hop. The Portuguese is quickly becoming Old Trafford’s most popular player but those in attendance wanted to see one player score more than any other.
Ighalo eventually opened his account and his new team-mates could not have made it any easier for him. From the left-hand edge of the penalty area, Fernandes brilliantly bypassed Brugge’s defence by switching the play to Mata, who then cut back from the byline for Ighalo to convert at close range.
A boyhood United fan, he celebrated with relish but also a touch of sadness, lifting his shirt to reveal the image of his sister Mary, who tragically died in December. Ighalo has vowed to dedicate every one of his United goals towards. Displaying undershirt images while celebrating a goal is a bookable offence but, sensibly, the Nigerian avoided punishment.
McTominay put United’s progression beyond doubt a few minutes before the break. Again, Fernandes was involved, pressing high and intercepting Odilon Kossounou’s loose pass deep in the final third. Fred’s cut lay-off found McTominay and, on his first start since Boxing Day, he delicately stroked the ball inside Mignolet’s near post.
Unsurprisingly, the second half did not start as quickly as the first. Three up on aggregate, Solskjaer felt secure enough to replace Fernandes with Jesse Lingard. There were audible jeers for Lingard among the plaudits for Fernandes but the substitute would have a telling hand in United’s fourth, which arrived eight minutes from time.
After good work by Luke Shaw to win possession in midfield, Lingard won a 50-50 with Matej Mitrovic and advanced on goal. His position was promising, even with Mignolet narrowing down the angle, but he unselfishly squared and allowed Fred to guide the ball into an unguarded net.
It was Fred’s second United goal in 60 appearances and he only had to wait another ten minutes for the third. Tahith Chong’s cut-back from the left was expertly swept out of Mignolet’s reach by the midfielder. United progress, with hope of avoiding more Thursday night football next season increasing.
In another game, Youssef El-Arabi scored in the last minute of extra-time as Olympiakos knocked Arsenal out of the Europa League on Thursday on a night when four former European champions were eliminated.
Ajax, Celtic, Benfica and Porto went out but Manchester United hardly broke sweat after Simon Deli of Brugge conceded a penalty and earned a red card in the 23rd minute at Old Trafford.
Arsenal, last year’s losing finalists, had won the first leg of the round of 32 tie 1-0 in Greece.
Defender Pape Abou Cisse cancelled out that advantage when he headed in a corner after 53 minutes.
Arsenal could not break through and were forced to extra time.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang put them back in front with a spectacular flying kick.
However, in the final minute of extra time, Arsenal cleared an Olympiakos corner but were still disorganised when the ball was swung back into the area.
The cross found El Arabi free in front of goal for an unchallenged shot.
“Very hard, very tough,” said Aubameyang. “Their last-minute goal was unlucky for us.” – Daily Independent, AFP.