Usually at the forefront of success in any football competition, Manchester has felt far removed from the pinnacle of the game, with the Premier League trophy close to completing its journey down the M62. However, the city can be proud of its clubs European exploits this week.
While the red half’s success may seem insignificant in comparison to City’s unlikely toppling of the Madrid giants, it may turn into a very important result for United. With the apparent disintegration of a ‘top six’ in the Premier League, top four places are being contested more than ever, with even 11th placed Everton still keeping the faith. Therefore, Europa League success for United could again prove vital in their route to the elusive benefits Champions League football brings to clubs even of their stature.
In Thursday’s game, the Belgian visitors proved no match for the Red Devils, with the large contingent of fans from northern Belgium returning home empty handed. While their ability to manoeuvre out of tough situations from defence with free flowing passing football, was enjoyable for the neutral, conceding five goals is evidence that a more pragmatic approach could have been adopted to take something from the game.
A player who might want to forget the game quicker than most is Simon Mignolet, whose return to the north west was a miserable affair. Investing in a new pair of boots must also be on the agenda, with his regular slips from goal kicks providing much amusement for the Stretford End.
Instead, the night belonged to United, with Bruno Fernandes’ midas touch lifting the mood of everyone at the club. His refusal to head back to the changing rooms after being substituted after Solskjaer’s offer demonstrates his commitment to the cause. Another January signing got in the act, with Odion Ighalo’s goal scoring instinct evident, finishing off a beautiful move involving Fernandes and Juan Mata.
It would be fair to suggest that it is unlikely he will break into the first team following his all round display, however using him in a similar way they use Sergio Romero as David de Gea’s backup could be an effective ploy, easing the reliance on the heavily worked Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. A tie against the leaders of the Austrain Bundesliga awaits for Solskjaer, with the overwhelmingly unknown LASK, keen to show their evident ability to a global audience.
In a month that started with a loss away at Spurs and included the announcement of their looming exile from Europe’s elite competition, Manchester City can take much confidence from an exceptional display at the Bernabeu. The slow start to the game possibly indicated that City may have been comfortable with a draw; Ederson having to be at his best to keep out a well placed header from Karim Benzema.
The second half provided more compelling viewing, with Isco getting the breakthrough, but flashes of brilliance from Riyad Mahrez and co. demonstrated that City were certainly still in the game. Sustained pressure on Thibaut Courtois’ goal, resulted in a well taken header and a calmly slotted penalty, giving an unlikely lead to the Sky Blues. It subsequently went from bad to worse for Los Blancos with Sergio Ramos’ red card resulting in a suspension, meaning he will miss the return leg. It undeniably sets up a mouth watering tie at the Etihad, with knockout stage Champions League football rarely producing simple conclusions.
Manchester students should be chomping at the bit to get their hands on any spare tickets.