Needing extra-time and a 21st penalty of the season on Monday, Manchester United just about managed to come past plucky underdogs Copenhagen in what was a sweltering night in Cologne.
While the Reds might have struggled to find a route out of third-gear for large spells, Bruno Fernandes managed to keep his cool from 12 yards and guided United to a semi-final showdown against either Sevilla or fellow Premier League representatives Wolves.
On a night that could have been remembered as one of European football’s greatest upsets, what did we learn from a tense night out in German this week?
United dodge a real banana skin
While Manchester United might have opened Monday’s quarter-final as a real leading contender with many across Europe, the Reds missed out on a real opportunity to make the statement that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would have been hoping for.
Electing to make six changes to the side the saw off LASK in the second-leg at Old Trafford last week, the former Premier League champions were largely outplayed in the first half and were lucky to have gone into the break with the scores tied.
Fielding the youngest United starting XI in a European tournament over the past four years, the likes of Fred and Eric Bailly struggled to take their chance and Solskjaer knows that those small alterations could have led to a huge upset on another night.
Although United might have rallied well in the second half and saw both Mason Greenwood and Bruno Fernandes rattle the woodwork from long-range, Solskjaer will be the first to admit that his side must put in a far more polished performance over 90 minutes if they’re to come past Sevilla or Wolves later in the week.
While the Red Devils might be priced at 21/10 with 888sport to come out on top this summer, teams across Europe will be boosted by their struggles on Monday.
Copenhagen leave with their heads held high
While Manchester United might have left the RheinEnergieStadion with the semi-final spot, Copenhagen would have left with the hearts of many from across the continent.
Although they might not have managed to pull off a similar upset that saw them shock United back in 2006 when Sir Alex Ferguson’s side came to town, the Danish outfit tore up the script in what was their first European quarter-final in the club’s history.
Despite opening Monday’s contest ranked as a 66/1 outsider to win this summer’s extended tournament, Head Coach Ståle Solbakken saw his side ask United a string of questions and had Mohammed Daramy and Bryan Oviedo been more clinical, Copenhagen could have taken a heavyweight scalp that would have sent shockwaves across Europe.
Confident to play out from the back and doing a fantastic job of nullifying the likes of Paul Pogba, the Lions should take plenty of solace from a resilient display.
Karl-Johan Johnsson – The Danes’ Swedish hero
Although the whole of Solbakken’s squad will leave Germany with their stock at an all-time high, there is no doubt that number one shot-stopper Karl-Johan Johnsson deserves an honourable mention for what was a stunning individual performance.
Doing a stellar job of keeping the English giants at bay for large spells of the second half, the 30-year-old Swedish keeper clawed Martial’s effort away from the top corner before standing tall to save with his feet on three separate one-on-one attacks.
Undoubtedly putting in the performance of a lifetime, the likes of Robin van Persie hailed Johnsson’s performance as “incredible” and he might have played himself onto some Premier League radars.
In fact, making 13 saves at the RheinEnergieStadion on Monday night, that was the joint-most by a goalkeeper in a single Europa League game since the competition’s re-branding in 2009.
A night to forget for Rashford
While Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial might have shown real glimpses as to why United have recorded 24 Europa League goals in this year’s tournament, Marcus Rashford was largely a spectator out wide on the left.
Cutting a frustrated figure and failing to make any real impact, the 22-year-old also failed to offer Luke Shaw’s deputy Brandon Williams much assistance as the academy product was often overwhelmed and targeted by Copenhagen.
Although Rashford might have managed to survive being dragged off until the dying embers out in Germany, the decision to replace Greenwood before him was not something that went down well with the watching on United fans.
Failing to now find the net in his last four appearances and appearing to be showing some signs of fatigue after a hectic return to action back in June, Solskjaer will know that he needs the England international back to his best if United are to lift the Europa League title as they did four years ago.
Fernandes drags United over the finish line
If United were to finally find a way past an inspired Johnsson in Cologne on Monday night, it was no surprise that Bruno Fernandes was the man to drag United into this weekend’s semi-final.
With the arrival of Nemanja Matic in the second half allowing the former Sporting Libson playmaker the chance to dictate the play in Copenhagen’s final third, Fernandes kept his cool from 12 yards and underlined how important he is to this new-look United side.
Dropping his stutter run-up and firing past the inspired Swede, the 25-year-old has now recorded seven Europa League goals in this summer’s extended tournament and still leads the race for the Golden Boot.
Seen as the real catalyst if United are to lift a piece of silverware this year, Fernandes has now been directly involved in 19 goals in just his first 21 appearances for Sunday’s semi-finalists.
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