Manchester United briefly flirted with becoming a laughing stock, but eventually turned on the style to hammer FC Midtjylland and progress to the last sixteen of the Europa League. However, a night that ended with backheels and backslapping began with trepidation when Anthony Martial limped out of the warm-up with a hamstring injury, his place taken by Marcus Rashford. An inexperienced goalscorer to lead inexperienced team. Disaster loomed.
That said, the youngsters started okay. Guillermo Varela was busy down the right, and Rashford didn't looked cowed by the stage; after fifteen minutes he showed decent touch and acceleration to work United's first shooting chance, though it was a fairly comfortable save. Midtjylland, however, stuck to their shape well, and on the whole were perfectly content to allow United the ball, safe in the knowledge that nobody in red really knew what to do with it.
It took a Midtjylland goal to wake the tie up, and it was two of United's senior players that came out of it looking like fools. Pione Sisto picked up the ball on the edge of the area, sashayed past Daley Blind, then tempted Michael Carrick into a challenge rasher than all of the bacon in Denmark. He left United's captain on the floor, slotted home, and United were so embarrassed that they started to play football. Five minutes later, Memphis danced into the left hand side of the Midtjylland area, slid over a cross, and Nikolay Bodurov poked it into his own net.
United should have taken the lead shortly afterwards: Memphis' flick-pass confused André Romer, who clattered into Ander Herrera just inside the box. But Juan Mata's penalty was as insipid as his musical taste — Imagine Dragons, Juan? Really? — and Mikkel Andersen in goal made a straightforward save.
The tie could have been level straight after half time too: both Morgan Schneiderlin and Ander Herrera missed presentable chances from short range, with foot and head respectively, and both looked baffled at their failure to hit the target. United then spent twenty minutes faffing around to no great effect before Juan Mata atoned for his penalty miss by chasing down an overhit cross just inside the penalty area. He cut the ball back to Rashford, who couldn't have asked for a better opportunity to open his account.
Once the scores were level, Midtjylland began falling apart. First Memphis danced through four challenges but couldn't find a finish. Then Lingard made himself look a little silly by taking an unaided tumble in the box. Eventually, and just when thoughts started to turn to extra-time, United worked space for Guillermo Varela in the right side of the penalty area. He squared up his defender before looping a cross to Rashford, who slammed home his second.
There was still enough time left for United to squeeze two more chance out of the game. Memphis made one and scored the other: winning a penalty for Ander Herrera, then capping his man of the match performance by driving low into the bottom corner from outside the box. It was clinical, eventually, and it was actually fun. More of that, please.