Manchester United cruised into the Europa League quarter-finals thanks to a passable second leg against LASK. Both sides kicked off the final 45 minutes of the tie with zero goals to their name before Philipp Wiesinger opened the scoring with a screamer in the 55th minute. LASK only had two minutes to bask in the lead before Jesse Lingard equalized from close range. Anthony Martial only needed four minutes after coming off the bench to secure the winner for the Reds late in the match, capitalizing off an impressive assist from Juan Mata.
Light work for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men. Here are three things we learned from United’s 2-1 victory against LASK.
Bench needs serious investment
Solskjaer made the decision to start the majority of United’s second string, only keeping defenders Harry Maguire and Brandon Williams from their victory against Leicester City in the final Premier League match. Though a strategic idea, the decision seriously highlighted United’s lack of squad depth. The match was pretty lackadaisical until Wiesinger’s strike, with the offensive unit missing finish after finish before that. Even Odion Ighalo, usually one to find the back of the net when starting, struggled to perform as the main striker. At this point, the Reds are one Martial or Marcus Rashford injury away from Daniel James running in straight lines for 90 minutes each match. There’s such a stark difference between the starters and the bench, and without serious investment, that could ultimately be the difference between United making a run for the Premier League trophy next year.
Pogba’s presence incomparable
The Reds were starting to show signs of life nearly halfway through the second half, but it was obvious Solskjaer wanted to leave Old Trafford a win. So, the Norwegian did what any sensible manager would do: send on his midfield talisman in place of the guy who only remembered how to score a week and a half ago. You could tell there was visible frustration from Lingard as he exited the pitch.
Paul Pogba quickly rejuvenated the middle, bringing a specific kind of intensity that the also-departed Fred couldn’t deliver. It’s remarkable how one person completely shifts the energy of the game, and that’s why Pogba is so essential to United’s midfield. Fans have gotten so accustomed to seeing Bruno Fernandes and Pogba in the middle that it’s almost impossible to recall how United (dys-)functioned prior to the Portuguese’s arrival in January. Thankfully, those nightmarish days are behind us.
It’s United’s Europa League to lose
Earlier this week, Ryan Giggs had this to say about United’s trophy prospects:
“We have a chance to win it. You have to win it because winning trophies brings confidence and there are guys in the locker room who haven’t won anything. There are still good teams out there but United can beat any team.”
The legend is absolutely correct. United have played in two semi-finals this season, both resulting in upsetting losses. Although the third-place Premier League finish is a testament to Solskjaer’s leadership, a successful second half of his first year as full-time manager won’t be complete until United are able to add hardware. Onward to Copenhagen.