Manchester United hold the advantage against Anderlecht in the Europa League quarter-finals after securing a 1-1 draw in Thursday’s first leg in Brussels.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored a crucial away goal 10 minutes before the break at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, netting from an acute angle to put United ahead, but Leander Dendoncker’s powerful header four minutes from time means the tie is still alive ahead of the return game at Old Trafford.
Ahead of the game, Jose Mourinho made three changes from the side that beat Sunderland last weekend, with Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick and Marcus Rashford all named in the starting line-up.
Amid perfect conditions, and backed by a vocal home support, Anderlecht started brightly and might have tested Sergio Romero with three minutes gone, but for Massimo Bruno’s mis-hit effort from just inside the area.
At the other end, a one-two between Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic almost came off, but the ball skipped off the heavily-watered surface and into the hands of Anderlecht’s goalkeeper, Ruben. The pace of both sides in attack was quickly becoming clear and the hosts had another half-chance soon after, following a swift counter-attack, but this time Bruno saw his effort blocked.
Mourinho’s men then so nearly took the lead on 18 minutes, as Rashford nonchalantly brought down a pass before fizzing in a low cross towards Ibrahimovic. The Swede’s stabbed shot ricocheted off Ruben and into the path of Jesse Lingard, who in turn could only hit the post. Rashford went for goal himself moments later, but his swerving 20-yard drive flew just wide, momentarily silencing the home crowd, who breathed a collective sigh of relief.
United, and in particular Rashford, were beginning to cause real problems for Anderlecht. With 27 minutes gone, Carrick found the youngster with a pin-point ball over the top; it was cleared as far as Mkhitaryan, who saw his effort well blocked. Micki was involved again as the Reds continued to press, nutmegging his marker and passing to Lingard, who was also stopped in his tracks.
At the next time of asking, however, the Reds did find a breakthrough. A neat move involving Ibrahimovic saw the ball slipped out wide to Valencia, who looked up and picked out Rashford. The attacker’s effort was pushed away, but Mkhitaryan raced in to fire into the roof of the net from a tight angle and claim his fourth goal in as many European away games.
It was the away goal the Reds had been looking for, and one which ultimately separated the sides going into the break.