With all eyes falling on Old Trafford on Thursday night, Manchester United opened their Europa League knockout stage adventure with a lively 4-1 victory against Real Betis.
Coming off the back of what was an infamous performance at Anfield last weekend as they were blown away by a stunning 7-0 defeat at the hands of their historic rivals, Erik ten Hag’s side certainly had plenty of pressure on their shoulders.
Heading into the half-time break with the score at 1-1 after Marcus Rashford’s thunderous sixth-minute opener was struck off by Leicester loanee Ayoze Perez, there was certainly some caution in the Manchester air.
However, while ten Hag’s side might have suffered that remarkable collapse on Merseyside last weekend, they came roaring back here as they enjoyed a stellar second-half romp.
With the trio of Antony, Bruno Fernandes and Wout Weghorst all getting on the scoresheet after returning from the interval, Betis will now know that they need a real Europa League miracle later in the month.
Failing to build on their first-half success and completely outplayed following the half-time break, some in Betis’ camp could feel that they missed out on a potential chance.
On a night that saw the Premier League giants move themselves into pole position to punch their Europa League quarter-final ticket, what did we learn from Thursday’s showdown at Old Trafford?
United’s Anfield nightmare was just a freak blip
Ending their six-year wait to lift a piece of silverware on February 26th as they were crowned EFL Cup champions following a 2-0 victory against Newcastle at Wembley, Manchester United found themselves riding a remarkable wave of momentum.
However, while some around Old Trafford might have suggested that ten Hag’s side were capable of mounting a Premier League title charge over the coming months, the Reds certainly came crashing back down to earth last weekend.
Coming under a huge amount of scrutiny as they were hit with a history-making 7-0 defeat against bitter rivals Liverpool, ten Hag was calling on an immediate response from his side here.
Although Thursday’s hosts might have shown some first-half inconsistencies, the 53-year-old would have been relieved to see his superstars find an immediate and crucial response on home soil.
Although United might have now accepted that it would take a minor miracle if they were to claim a first Premier League crown since 2012, they should feel that there is a real chance of adding to their EFL Cup success this season.
Ten Hag will have a headache over United’s recent defensive issues
While Manchester United might have left Old Trafford on Thursday night with a first-leg advantage to show for their troubles, the former Ajax boss would have been somewhat frustrated by another shaky defensive display.
Completely blown away at Anfield last weekend in what will long be remembered as an infamous Premier League hammering, the English giants are seeking some recent stability at the back.
Knowing that they were lucky to have not entered the half-time break chasing a 2-1 deficit here, United have now recorded just a single clean sheet in their last five appearances across all competitions.
Likewise, mustering just a pair of clean sheets at Old Trafford since recording a 2-0 victory against Nottingham Forest on February 1st, ten Hag will undoubtedly be looking to plug United’s recent defensive struggles.
While Thursday’s hosts might have gained a reputation for their free-scoring displays since returning from the World Cup’s winter break, the Dutch tactician will be more than aware that his side can not afford to be handing away at the other end.
Betis pass up the chance to make a Europa League statement
Putting in another gritty display last weekend as they claimed a 0-0 stalemate against reigning European champions Real Madrid, Manuel Pellegrini’s side traveled to Manchester with the mood in their camp at a continued high.
With their sights set on securing a top-four finish in La Liga this season and gaining a host of plaudits from across Spain on either side of the festive interval, the former West Ham boss could feel that Los Verdiblancos missed out on the chance to make their own Europa League statement here.
Failing to find any fluidity after returning from the half-time break, Betis will now be more than aware that they face a monumental challenge when they welcome United to the Estadio Benito Villamarin on March 16th.
Breezing their way to the knockout stage of this season’s Europa League last year, Betis had also gained a reputation for their success on foreign soil.
Including a 2-1 victory against Italian icons Roma back in October, Thursday’s guests had previously collected 13 points from their last five Europa League showdowns outside of Seville.
Manchester United: De Gea, Dalot, Varane, Martinez, Shaw, Casemiro, Fred, Antony, Fernandes, Rashford, Weghorst
Subs: Malacia, Sancho, Pellistri, Wan-Bissaka, McTominay
Real Betis: Bravo, Sabaly, Pezzella, Felipe, Abner, Carvalho, Rodriguez, Juanmi, Joaquin, Henrique, Perez
Subs: Guardado, Ruibal, Iglesias, Canales, Jose
Goals: Manchester United: Rashford (6′), Antony (52′), Fernandes (58′), Weghorst (82′) – Real Betis: Perez (32′)
Yellow Cards: Fernandes, Weghorst
Red Cards: N/A
Referee: Daniel Siebert