Manchester United will advance to their third semi-final of the 2019/20 season, after a Bruno Fernandes penalty in extra time gave them a narrow 1-0 win over FC Copenhagen in the Europa League quarterfinal. It was not a classic match by any means for United, despite being heavily one sided as expected, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men will have a lot to work on before facing a much tougher opponent in the semi-final.
Copenhagen certainly looked determined at the start of the match, and pressured United early to prevent any counters after a turnover. United’s rotated in starters were more than up for it though, and soon settled comfortably into control of possession. Fred played a clever ball to a sprinting Bruno Fernandes near the Copenhagen touchline, but the Portuguese creator’s headed ball back across goal found no one as Anthony Martial hadn’t made a run in yet. The opening 10 minutes continued to be action packed, with a couple of corners, and a clever exchange between Martial, Marcus Rashford setting up an on target but weak Mason Greenwood shot. United setting a tone early.
Copenhagen got an opportunity from some nice play in the 13th minute. It was dealt with by Harry Maguire and Eric Bailly, but Brandon Williams letting his man dribble into a dangerous area giving a bit of a warning sign. Shortly after, Copenhagen left back Nicolai Boilessen had to come off due to an injury, and on the ensuing corner a Williams header saved a potential goal for the Danes. A Fred giveaway forced more heroics from Paul Pogba and Maguire, as it became clear Copenhagen was beginning to get some momentum and confidence in attack, aided by United’s sloppiness.
United nearly got a lucky break in the 21st minute when the referee pointed to the spot, but VAR concluded there was no foul and the right call was actually offside on United. They were getting more of the ball again though, and a better weighted pass from Martial on a breakaway might have sent Greenwood through, but instead sent him wide where he was forced to reset their possession, and a surprisingly nervy game went into the cooling break level 0-0.
United came out of the break on the front foot, winning a free kick in a dangerous position, which Bruno sent over the goal, and Rashford nearly found Martial in front of goal with a lobbed ball going just beyond the Frenchman’s reach. For a period Copenhagen’s goal was well under siege, with all of United’s prolific attackers circling on the edge of the box looking for a way in. The Danish side were able to lift the pressure, but things weren’t quite falling for them the way it was earlier in the match. Their young forward Mohamed Daramy was causing some problems, but Sergio Romero was yet to be tested.
After a first half that seemed long due to perhaps a lack of intensity, United appeared to have taken the lead via Mason Greenwood’s tidy finish from a tough angle, but the goal was overturned by VAR for offside. It was a frustrating, but correct, decision, and the match remained level going into the half.
United picked up where they left off in the second half by pressing quickly and trying to find avenues for breakaways down Copenhagen’s flanks. Rashford, who had several giveaways in the first half, looked more sharp after the break, and his confidence carried into his play. Interplay on the edge of the area led to a Fred effort from range, but proved easy for the goalkeeper to handle. A couple minutes later Rashford slotted home the rebound off the post from a Greenwood shot, but again the goal was called back for offside. United looked more settled, but still couldn’t break through.
The game began to open up after that, and a flurry of chances followed for both teams. Around the hour mark United finally conceded possession, and Copenhagen broke out. They found plenty of space, but ultimately couldn't find the net after a weak Oviedo shot was easily stopped by Romero. Harry Maguire was given a yellow card for an offense during the build up. United went forward again and nearly scored from a long-range Bruno shot, but were again denied by the upright. Copenhagen got another spell of possession in United’s half, and only an Aaron Wan-Bissaka block stopped Oviedo from opening the scoring. Bruno, who was becoming more and more involved, had another effort from range denied, followed by another fine save of a Pogba attempt. The two star creators in midfield had a fine run of chances, but, again, United were lacking in the final third.
Solskjaer made his first changes in the 70th minute, bringing on Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof for Fred and Eric Bailly respectively. The move to take off Fred was likely a move to provide fresh legs, but the Brazilian midfielder had a decent game as defensive screen for the Reds. The match settled down a bit after that. Some poor giveaways by both teams, and a penalty shout by Copenhagen’s former United prospect Guillermo Varela waved off by the referee. Anthony Martial got a great look at goal in the 84th minute, but was denied by Karl-Johan Johnsson, who had shown throughout the match he was more than capable when called upon.
As time expired Pogba found a couple neat through balls, but United’s excess of attacking talent continually came up short. Wan-Bissaka played a ball across goal ahead of his attacking options, and a solo run by Martial was stopped just short of a shooting opportunity. With extra time looming Copenhagen got one more look at United’s goal, but Jens Stage hit it well over Romero’s net.
Juan Mata was sent on for a tired Greenwood at the start of extra time, and United continued their tireless siege of Copenhagen’s goal. Martial, looking reenergized, made 3 runs into the area early on, and won a penalty the third time. Bruno calmly converted, as he does, to finally put United 1-0 up.
Copenhagen, looking beaten, continued to succumb to pressure in midfield, but United still couldn’t get a goal from open play. A direct and skillful run by Martial set up chances for both Mata and Bruno, but Johnsson denied them both. United had a flurry of chances to end the first period of extra time, but Johnnson again denied each attempt to keep his side alive for the final 15 minutes.
The second period of extra time began with a corner for Copenhagen, but settled into a very tired period of football for both sides. Jesse Lingard came on for a clearly exhausted Marcus Rashford. United’s no. 10 had a slow start to the day, but helped create some good opportunities in the 2nd half and extra time. The tired football benefitted Copenhagen, who got much more possession and attacking opportunities than they had been getting, and began to force some scare moments for the United backline. With only one additional minute of stoppage time, and some of that used on a Scott McTominay for Martial substitution, the Danes were on their last leg. They spent it poorly, and United held out to earn a spot in the semi-final against either Wolverhampton Wanderers or Sevilla next weekend.