Marcus Rashford’s brilliant finish and a Bruno Fernandes penalty kick gave Manchester United a 2-0 victory over Granada on Thursday, putting them firmly in charge of their Europa League quarter-final. Rashford snagged a long Victor Lindelof ball in the first half, the forward injecting some quality into a frenzied bout at Los Carmenes before Fernandes made two in the 90th minute. The result gives United a considerable lead heading into next week’s second leg at Old Trafford, where they are expected to finish the job and reserve their place in the semi-finals to face Ajax or Roma, with the Italians leading 2-1 after the first leg. .
“It’s a blank sheet of paper and David (de Gea) wasn’t really upset,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said. “There were times that could have been chances, but I thought we defended well when we had to and I think 2-0 is a good lead.”
Rashford has now scored eight of United’s 23 goals in Europe this season.
“It was a very good race and he takes the ball in a fantastic way,” said Solskjaer.
Granada celebrated their 90th birthday on Tuesday and arguably have never played a more important game, a club that has never won a major trophy against one that has won 20 Premier League titles and three European Cups.
It’s a fairy tale for the Spanish club who finished 10th in the second division just three years ago before Diego Martinez, arguably La Liga’s brightest coach, who crafted a promotion and then a qualification for Europe.
Six players from their starting lineup played for them in the second tier and with Los Carmenes empty, Granada even sent all of their season ticket holders a personalized souvenir ticket to mark the occasion.
But it will take a memorable comeback next week for them to reverse that tie. “I think the result is a severe punishment for what happened in the game,” Martinez said. “The last goal hurts, it hurts a lot.”
De Gea back to goal
For United, the Europa League remains Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s only realistic hope of a trophy and with a top four spot almost guaranteed, he can afford to give it his full attention.
Solskjaer put on a solid line-up, with Rashford taking the start despite coming out against Brighton on Sunday with a stroke. David de Gea has been selected in goals for the first time since February.
Granada had Roberto Soldado up front, the 35-year-old forward who endured two disappointing seasons with Tottenham in the Premier League but tasted victory over United in his last appearance for them in 2014, when he came out for a young Harry Kane.
United had to survive a frantic opening period where neither side really settled in, but Rashford dropped the first piece of real precision in the game just after half an hour.
Lindelof spotted his run behind but Rashford had a long way to go, his outstretched foot perfectly cushioning the ball in his path and giving him a simple finish ahead of Rui Silva.
Granada responded, a mishit center from Yangel Herrera, on loan from Manchester City, hitting the post before Kenedy tested De Gea with a well-hitting volley.
But United absorbed the pressure and should have scored a second when Daniel James barged in from the left and slid to Fernandes, but he couldn’t find the finish from the angle.
Fernandes, however, won the penalty, fouled by Yan Eteki before rising to take it, a scuffed shot wiggling into the bottom corner to put United in sight of the semi-finals.
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