Manchester United booked their spot in the Europa League round of 16 on Thursday night, dismantling Club Brugge 5-0 at Old Trafford to advance 6-1 on aggregate.
After a hectic start, the moment of the match came in the 23rd minute courtesy of a moment of madness from Simon Deli. The Brugge defender stuck out an arm to block a shot in the area, and did that successfully. However, the referee clearly saw what had happened, sending off the player and giving United a penalty. Bruno Fernandes stepped up, and coolly converted from the spot.
The Red Devils would put the game away soon after, killing off the tie in the process. Odion Ighalo scored his first goal for the club at the half hour mark, getting on the end of a cross from Juan Mata to poke home from close range.
Scott McTominay would get on the scoresheet on his return from injury, finding the bottom corner with a shot from the edge of the area minutes before the halftime break.
United controlled the rest of proceedings, and even added a few more goals before the night was over. Jesse Lingard picked out Fred for an easy tap in with 10 minutes to go, and the Brazilian would add another in stoppage time, slotting past Simon Mignolet with relative ease.
The result meant the Red Devils advanced to the next round of the Europa League, continuing their Thursday night European adventure.
After a tight first leg, some United fans felt worried going into this contest. Brugge showed plenty of promise on the counter attack, and would have actually won the opening match if not for a defensive error.
The Belgian side even started well at Old Trafford, but the aforementioned rash decision from Deli really cost them, as they were suddenly down a man and a goal.
To the Red Devils’ credit, they made sure to wrap things up as soon as possible, scoring from the spot and adding another two before the half. They’ve sometimes found it impossible to find the back of the net, but getting a few goals should give them a needed confidence boost going into a tough stretch of the season.
No United fan wants to be in the Europa League, but they’d certainly prefer to win it if they have to be there, like a few years ago under Jose Mourinho. There’s still a long way to go, but the Red Devils should like their chances of lifting silverware come the end of the season.
The Bruno show
Manchester United are a completely different team when Bruno Fernandes is on the pitch, and performances like this from the Portuguese international show why the club paid big money for him in January.
Fernandes was excellent once again, bossing the game from midfield. He linked up play very well, knowing when to play it safe and when to attempt a riskier pass. That allowed him to drive forward on the ball later on, attacking the Brugge backline.
However, Fernandes was arguably at his best off the ball. Constantly pressing the opposition, he forced a number of bad passes and touches at the back, which United pounced upon time and time again.
It was only his fifth game for the Red Devils, but Fernandes has instantly acclimated to life at Old Trafford, and could be the man to lead United into the future.
Fred gets his reward
Someone who had a much harder time getting comfortable at the club was Fred, who struggled greatly in his first few months at United. It’s taken time, but the Brazilian is now at his best, and was able to grab a few goals to cap off his solid run of form.
Without McTominay and Paul Pogba in the team for long periods of the season, a lot of pressure was put on Fred in the middle of the park. He had to do plenty on and off the ball as he was paired alongside the likes of Nemanja Matic and Andreas Pereira, who are far from great to say the very least.
Fred did what was needed of him, and has been even better with Fernandes now in the team to help him out. He only had one goal for the Red Devils going into the contest, but was able to triple his tally against Brugge, even if the goals came in garbage time.
Both were solid finishes, to his credit, keeping his shots on target. The stats might not show how brilliant Fred has been this campaign, but these goals will at least put him on the scoresheet, and prove to some that he’s finally living up to the lofty transfer fee United paid for him a few years ago.