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Manchester United 2-1 Anderlecht (AET): Rashford sends United to the Europa League semi-finals in extra time

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It wasn’t pretty, but the Reds eventually found a way through to the next round.

Manchester United v RSC Anderlecht - UEFA Europa League Quarter Final: Second Leg Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

That was decidedly more unpleasant than it needed to be. It was a performance that was often sloppy and disjointed, but another moment of composure from Marcus Rashford was enough to make the difference. Manchester United are through to their first European semi-final in six years, but they certainly didn't do it the easy way.

José Mourinho signaled his intent to put this Europa League tie to bed by naming an attacking team, but whatever his intentions, things didn’t quite go to plan on the day. It was an open start to the match, with Anderlecht showing that they were just as prepared as United to play on the front foot. With barely two minutes gone, first leg goal-scorer Leander Dendoncker sent a rasping drive just inches wide of the upper corner of Sergio Romero’s goal.

United though, were full of threat themselves in the opening minutes of the match. Henrikh Mkhitaryan struck to put the Reds ahead after just under ten minutes. Paul Pogba skillfully evaded his defender before playing a raking ball to find Rashford, who then squared for Mkhitaryan. The Armenian made no mistake with the finish.

United nearly doubled their lead a minute later when Pogba’s header was tipped away, following a United corner. The resulting corner ended in yet another fingertip save from Rubén, this time from a Jesse Lingard shot.

A worrying moment followed this spell of United pressure, as Marcos Rojo went down clutching his left knee following a collision. After initially trying to play on, Rojo was stretchered off and replaced by Daley Blind. With no other senior central defender available to replace him, Rojo’s injury could well prove costly for the rest of the season.

The injury and change seemed to throw the Reds off of their rhythm, and Romero was called into action twice in the space of five minutes to deny Anderlecht an equalizer. United had seemed to weather the storm and launched an attack of their own, but Anderlecht struck back to draw level at the thirty minute mark. A deflected shot from Youri Tielemans struck the crossbar, but Sofiane Hanni was the first to gather the rebound and smash the ball the home.

The goal further stunned Mourinho’s men. The rest of the half petered out with half-chances for both sides, but the early fluidity in United’s play was gone. By halftime, the players were visibly frustrated, and the home crowd had become restless.

United emerged after the break with their composure at least partially restored, and almost went ahead when Luke Shaw - rampaging from his left-back spot - squared a ball across the face of goal that just escaped the boot of Lingard.

Just short of the hour mark, Mourinho decided that he had seen enough. Off went the industrious Lingard, and on came Marouane Fellaini to provide a more direct route to goal and allow Pogba to move further upfield. Rene Weiler responded with a double change of his own minutes later, sending on Nicolae Stanciu for the goalscorer Hanni, and Massimo Bruno for Alexandru Chipciu.

Rashford should have put United ahead in the 69th minute. The young striker found himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but the combination of a heavy touch and good defending from Dennis Appiah meant the chance went begging. Zlatan Ibrahimović, restored to the side for his experience and goal-scoring, was dreadful for the majority of this game. The Swede had an equally good chance moments later, but hit his shot straight at the goalkeeper. Within 10 minutes, he would have two more efforts that were as close to the corner flag as they were to the goal.

With neither side able to find a breakthrough in normal time, extra time beckoned. Ibrahimović went down injured with the last kick of normal time, and Anthony Martial came on in his place. Within two minutes, United almost went ahead through a sensational move. Rashford crossed from the edge of the box with the a rabona, which was met by a Pogba overhead kick. Unfortunately, that effort was blocked.

Pogba then went one better and put the ball in the back of the net, but the goal was ruled out for Fellaini’s foul to win the knockdown. United were now completely in control.

And just after the second half of extra time kicked off, that control paid off. Rashford took a lovely touch after controlling yet another Fellaini knockdown, and placed his finish just inside the corner.

It was ugly, it was nerve-wracking, and it may have come at the cost of two untimely injuries, but United just about got there in the end.