Manchester United have one foot firmly in the semi-finals of the Europa League after a comfortable if stop-start evening in Spain.
It was a tough first half – Granada had clearly observed what happened to Sociedad and were not willing to allow themselves to be pulled apart in the same way, so they defended deeper, necessitating United’s push up the pitch and greater creative guile.
But just as at the weekend it didn’t seem to be clicking very well. Fernandes was often lost in the crowd, Pogba was not imperious (and when he isn’t he is usually poor) and Rashford looked to be struggling with an ankle injury.
That was until the 31st minute – when Lindelof’s raking pass was magnificently controlled by Rashford. His finish was not quite so accomplished, but it barely mattered when it was still good enough to beat the goalkeeper, and give United a crucial away goal.
The second half was more about how trigger happy the referee would get with the yellow card – Maguire, Shaw and McTominay will all miss the second leg through suspension, though it did seem as if the home players were going down very easily much too often.
If the referee was giving generous decisions, then the hosts paid the price in the last minute, when Bruno Fernandes went down after being struck by an arm – he stepped up to take the penalty that was awarded, and it squirmed in past the goalkeeper.
Other than a couple of long range efforts De Gea dealt with comfortably, Granada offered little in goal threat, so even missing some of their defensive steel, it’s difficult to see United surrendering a two goal aggregate lead to be eliminated.
Having dropped De Gea for the league games and recalled him for the Europa League, does it make it a risk? That was just about the only question as the other ten players – aside from the argument about James or Cavani – effectively picked themselves in the system Solskjaer is used to using.
It was a strategy to try and replicate what happened against Sociedad, but it did not work, and with the players United have, even against this standard of opposition it remains peculiarly difficult for them to break down teams with creativity. There are other ways – and United used two of them to get goals, and probably earn qualification – but it did seem as though Solskjaer’s men won against a poor team rather than impressing themselves.
De Gea 7