Marcus Rashford fires Manchester United into the Europa League semi-finals, but injuries to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo make it a night of pain as much as pleasure at Old Trafford.
Here’s how an eventful tie was finally resolved.
Manchester United 2 Anderlecht 1 (After extra time, aggregate 3-2)
Jose Mourinho won the battle but could well end up losing the war after an attritional night of European football.
Goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and, in extra time, the excellent Marcus Rashford secured Man United’s passage into the last four of the Europa League – but at a cost.
Having to play 120 minutes of football in the run-up to a double Gameweek of two key league matches in five days was bad enough. To also lose Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo to knee injuries could have major repercussions for the side – and any number of Fantasy managers.
A significant injury to the Swede would prove particularly hurtful, although doubt surrounds its severity.
Mourinho’s initial prognosis was a terse ‘fairly negative’, only for Luke Shaw to later tell reporters:
“He’s fine. He was walking around in the changing room.”
What isn’t in doubt is that Ibrahimovic’s injury has the potential to wreck myriad Fantasy plans for United’s double away at Burnley and Man City.
More than 82,000 managers brought the Swede in for Gameweek 34, which had made him the most popular buy. He has now been usurped by Rashford, with 125,000+ new bosses believing he will be the man to lead United’s line through the next two fixtures.
The rush to sell Ibrahimovic has also begun – more than 67,000 have already made the move, handing the striker the curious honour of being in the Gameweek’s top five for both transfers in and out at present.
Direct trades involving Rashford in for Ibrahimovic are also popular, with more than 31,000 managers making the swap.
Uncertainty is the one commodity we don’t want to deal in when plotting double Gameweek strategies.
Unfortunately for us, it’s ten-a-penny at United now.
Rashford has three goals in his last four appearances in all competitions and his pace and directness bring a whole new dimension to Mourinho’s team. But the 19-year-old has started four of United’s last five matches in the league and both legs of the European quarter-final.
With Wayne Rooney finally back on the bench against Anderlecht after a long injury lay-off, Mourinho has extra options should he not wish to call on Rashford exclusively over the double Gameweek.
The coach also has to address the issues raised by the injury to centre-half Rojo.
The Argentinian had formed a fine partnership with Eric Bailly at the back, the pair helping United to three clean sheets from their last four league matches.
But Mourinho had already been talking of the duo’s need for rest. With Chris Smalling and Phil Jones both out since Gameweek 29, he had even suggested youth team product Axel Tuanzebe might have started last night had the tie not been in the balance.
Now that Rojo could face a spell on the sidelines, a rest for Bailly looks remote, which should please his 7.6% ownership. More than 35,000 new managers have bought the Ivorian in preparation for a double Gameweek that could now involve Daley Blind (4.2%) playing twice as well.
Mourinho’s post-match comments regarding Smalling and Jones certainly suggest Blind is the man for the moment.
“They cannot make miracles. They are injured and they cannot make Sunday. They cannot do miracles but with a special spirit, instead of coming back mid-May you can come back at the beginning of May. They could accelerate the process.”
The Dutchman has not started since Gameweek 25, but offers more than just defensive returns. He often takes free-kicks and corners and has picked up bonus points on seven occasions this season despite starting only 14 matches.
Meanwhile, United’s most popular defender, the 16.6%-owned Antonio Valencia, played the full 120 minutes against the Belgians. Mourinho has talked regularly of the Ecuadorian’s fatigue in recent weeks, so it would be a surprise if he is handed double duties in the days ahead.
That could boost the prospects of Matteo Darmian, who was rested last night, as the Italian full-back is flexible enough to be able to play on either flank – vital should Blind, sometimes deployed at left-back, be handed a double shift in the middle.
All will become clearer over the next day or so, but that’s already too late for many managers. The safer option for many more would seem to involve steering well clear of United assets or risk further pain as the Gameweek unfolds.
Manchester United XI: Romero; Valencia, Rojo (Blind 23), Bailly, Shaw; Carrick, Pogba; Lingard (Fellaini 60), Mkhitaryan, Rashford; Ibrahimovic (Martial 90).
Subs not used: De Gea, Herrera, Young, Rooney.
* In light of last night’s events, we’ve reset our Captain Poll for Gameweek 34. The original was proving to be an Ibrahimovic landslide.