A streaker somehow infiltrated the Estadio Municipal Nuevo Los Cármenes but Manchester United did not expose themselves against Granada.
They were never likely to be denuded by the 35-year-old Roberto Soldado, as harmless as he was during his Tottenham days. A fifth semi-final beckons on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s watch after the mismanagement in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Solskjaer presided over a more accomplished knockout tie in Spain, where again he risked a player incapable of completing 90 minutes. Happily for United, the Marcus Rashford risk did not backfire.
Rashford told Solskjaer he was ‘okay’ and that was all the medical diagnosis his manager required to start him. Since Solskjaer downplayed silverware three weeks ago, United departed the FA Cup and the disappointment has afforded him time to reassess and accept a new plinth is overdue in the Old Trafford museum. That was reflected by Rashford’s inclusion.
Rashford’s away goal, perceptively assisted by Victor Lindelof and effortlessly taken by the No.10, marked Rashford’s second successive 20-goal-season haul for United – the first player to do so since Wayne Rooney between 2008 and 2010.
That is some going in a campaign that has ranged from the superb to the subdued, although Rashford’s curved run to kill Lindelof’s service was more in keeping with his talismanic 2019-20.
An away European knockout win, burnished by a clean sheet, is always an excellent result even if United were reduced to replacing Paul Pogba with Nemanja Matic to counter the card-happy referee. The referee remarkably showed yellow to Matic, too.
Bruno Fernandes was ineffectual until impetuously struck in the face to receive a penalty that he converted unconvincingly. The performance was far from perfect from United but the result was and Granada, bullish at 1-0, were deflated at 2-0.
The Granada team bus was greeted by fanatics wielding flares discharging red smoke outside the ground, a vivid reminder of what European midweek nights should look like. The ninth-placed La Liga side’s remote chances of success appear to have gone up in smoke after Fernandes’s spotkick.
This was the kindest of Europa League draws for United, although they will not have drawn many viewers tuned into the glorious greens of Augusta. United have scored twice in three of their last 10 matches, not ideal for a run-in, even if the Premier League is devoid of jeopardy. United are all but certain of going into the Champions League group stage draw in August.
Against their 11th opponents from Spain, United enjoyed another victory underpinned by the defence, from Lindelof’s pass for Rashford to the composed ‘keeping of David de Gea, faultless on his first appearance since February. Alex Telles enjoyed an encouraging half at the expense of the rested Luke Shaw.
Fernandes, tepid again, left Solskjaer and Donny van de Beek in disbelief at his failure to convert a glaring opportunity in the 83rd minute, although he appeared to be offside. He just about atoned with the penalty that inflicted a pivotal psychological blow on a game Granada.
Artur Dias, the Portuguese referee, brandished yellow cards to Shaw, Scott McTominay and Harry Maguire, the trio all suspended for the return leg. Pogba, booked in the sixth minute, was hooked shortly after Maguire’s dubious caution.
It was such a tepid affair one could be forgiven for wondering whether the quarter-final bans were a premeditated tactic by United. Shaw was overdue a breather and United have ample choice to complement Pogba at Old Trafford and Axel Tuanzebe is due a run-out. Those changes should not compromise their aggregate advantage.
The sole piece of quality football was started by Lindelof and finished by Rashford. Lindelof was partly signed on the strength of his distribution yet his only other United assist was an identical long, lofted pass for Rashford at Sheffield United in December. He has seldom showcased that vision when it is an asset United should utilise more often, provided there is always a runner for Lindelof to locate.
Rashford was sensibly removed in the 66th minute for Edinson Cavani to finally appear in the Europa League. Unlike at Leicester, Cavani was not part of the cavalry.