Manchester United came from behind to beat Austrian side LASK at Old Trafford, advancing to the quarter-finals of the Europa League 7-1 on aggregate.
Anthony Martial came off the bench to score the winner four minutes from time, collecting Juan Mata’s precise through ball before finishing off his 23rd goal of the season from 10 yards.
Earlier, Mata also provided the assist for Jesse Lingard to score for the second consecutive game.
Having broken his Premier League duck for the season in the very last minute of the final match – at Leicester – it meant Lingard was scoring in successive games for the first time since he did so December 2018.
That was in the matches against Liverpool and Cardiff that bookended the final game of Jose Mourinho’s time in charge at Old Trafford and the first of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s.
It was tough luck on the Austrians, who were the better side in the first half, despite trailing 5-0 from their home game in March.
When skipper Philipp Wiesinger curled an excellent shot into the top corner after 55 minutes, it looked like they were heading for a famous victory.
But Lingard replied two minutes later and Solskjaer could even give 18-year-old defender Teden Mengi his debut as the clock ticked down to the final whistle.
Having already secured a place in next season’s Champions League, United will now play Danish side FC Copenhagen in Cologne in the quarter-finals of the ‘Final 8’ tournament on 10 August.
The ‘Final 8’ is taking place in Germany, with the final itself being held in Cologne on 21 August.
The draw for the remainder of the competition has already taken place. Wolves are potential semi-final opponents, so there cannot be an all-English final.
However, Inter Milan, with three former United players – Romelu Lukaku, Ashley Young and Alexis Sanchez – are potential final opponents.
Who is at risk if Jadon Sancho arrives?
The build-up to this game was dominated by news of Jadon Sancho’s likely arrival and Sanchez’s imminent exit.
If the Sancho deal eventually happens, the England wide-man will be competing with Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood for the forward spots.
And it would mean fewer opportunities for the pair who started in the wide positions against LASK, both of whom scored in the first leg.
Juan Mata cost United a then club record £37.1m when David Moyes signed him from Chelsea in January 2014. Mata’s arrival in a helicopter was memorable and he has enjoyed moments of success.
However, at 32, it is hard to see him making much of an impact on Solskjaer’s side given the pace they play with. Mata has scored three times this season but has made just two 10-minute substitute appearances since the resumption, which says a lot.
Mata’s ability has never revolved around pace. He prefers to play with his brain and, going about his business largely unnoticed, he ended the evening with two excellent assists, which showed his passing range.
It took a long, straight pass to send Lingard through. The one he found Martial with was shorter – but equally precise.
United sources have admitted they took a punt on Daniel James, who signed last summer for £15m from Swansea after a recommendation from Ryan Giggs.
The 22-year-old has age as well as time on his side. But the Welshman looks a shadow of the player who made such a blistering start to his United career, scoring three goals in his first four appearances.
Had he shown more conviction, James might have been able to reach Brandon Williams’ low second-half cross. Instead, it evaded him and the rest of the game passed without a significant contribution.
A total 54 minutes in five substitute appearances since starting the first game since lockdown at Tottenham on 19 June does not hint at James playing an integral role when United head to Germany looking to win their first trophy in three seasons.
United look to end three-year trophy wait
While it would be tempting to think United do not have to take this competition quite so seriously now their Champions League place no longer rests on winning it, that would be to ignore the club’s recent history.
Not since the 1980s have the club failed to win a trophy in three consecutive seasons, which is the fate that awaits them if they miss out in this tournament.
They will be encountering a familiar face in the last eight following FC Copenhagen’s 3-0 win over Istanbul Basaksehir.
Uruguayan defender Guillermo Varela made a total of 11 appearances in four seasons on the books at United, although he only actually played for them in the 2015-16 campaign.
Coincidentally, his last appearance came in the Europa League, against Liverpool in March 2016.
Man of the match – Juan Mata (Manchester United)
‘It’s job done’ – what they said
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer speaking to BT Sport: “Some of these lads haven’t played for a while and it showed. We won, we gave a debut to a young lad, it’s been a good night. For me it was a good exercise, it’s job done, minutes under the belt and on to Copenhagen.”
On debutant Teden Mengi: “He is a leader, a centre-back, someone we believe in, he’s strong, quick, good on the ball and I think we’ve got a decent player there.”
On the availability of Victor Lindelof for the quarter-final: “Victor should be OK to travel. It’s great to get Eric [Bailly] through a game again, he’s had his ups and downs with injuries.”
Mata’s magic touch – the stats
- Manchester United remain unbeaten in their 10 meetings with Austrian opponents in all European competition. It’s the most they’ve met sides from a specific country without defeat.
- Manchester United have netted 23 goals in the Europa League this season, at least four more than any other side in the competition.
- Manchester United have used 38 players in the Europa League this season – the most different players a team has used in a single campaign in Uefa Cup/Europa League history.
- Anthony Martial is now Manchester United’s top scorer in all competitions this season with 23 goals. The Frenchman had scored just 23 goals in his last two campaigns combined for the Red Devils.
- Jesse Lingard has scored in back-to-back matches for Manchester United for the first time since December 2018.
- Philipp Wiesinger’s opener for LASK was the first goal Manchester United have conceded at home in the Europa League this season.
- No player has provided more assists in the Europa League this season than Man Utd’s Juan Mata (5), with the Spaniard setting up both of the Red Devils’ goals.