Odion Ighalo scored his first goal for Manchester United as they cruised into the Europa League last 16 at the expense of Club Bruges with one of their best performances of the season.
Bruno Fernandes scored his second United penalty in a week after Simon Deli was sent off for a ludicrous handball to block Daniel James’ shot.
The Portuguese, who was at the centre of everything, had a hand in the second as he lifted a pass over the top to Juan Mata, who squared for full debutant Ighalo to tap in from six yards.
And Scott McTominay, making his first start following an injury, side-footed in a third to wrap the tie up before half-time.
Fred scored his first two goals of the season in the final 10 minutes as United got the big scoreline their performance deserved.
Club Bruges brought thousands of noisy fans to Old Trafford to help with a good atmosphere – but their players could not match their efforts and created nothing of note.
The draw for the last 16 takes place on Friday at 12:00 GMT – with United able to face any of the other teams left, including Wolves and Rangers.
Ighalo goal highlight of dominant United display
If United were to draw up a blueprint for the perfect half, it would probably have been something like “goals for the January signings and the hometown favourite on his full return from injury. Oh, plus a red card so we only have to play the second half against 10 men”.
That is exactly what happened.
United were excellent – although Bruges did not look as dangerous as they did in the 1-1 first-leg draw – with the Old Trafford faithful appreciating what they were watching.
The undoubted turning point of the game was when Deli dived to stop James’ effort with his hand – even though goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was diving behind him.
He was sent off – a decision upheld after a long VAR delay which did not seem necessary – and Fernandes kept his composure to stroke home his penalty with a stuttered run-up, just as he did against Watford.
Boyhood United fan Ighalo, a January loan signing from Shanghai Shenhua, made his first start because of an injury to Anthony Martial and took advantage by scoring into an empty net.
The biggest cheer of the night was probably for McTominay, who guided the ball home from 20 yards following Fred’s cutback. It was his first start after two months out with a knee injury.
The game seemed to be drifting to a close until Fred stepped up to score twice – first converting Jesse Lingard’s cross from close range and then scoring from the edge of the area from Tahith Chong’s pass.
Can United go all the way?
The fans sang manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s name as United blew Bruges away.
The convincing victory will get supporters wondering whether they can win the trophy they lifted in 2017 – and the Champions League place that comes with it.
They are only three points behind fourth-placed Chelsea but this does give them a fallback plan.
A European trophy for Solskjaer to add to his Norwegian titles with Molde would be welcome too.
Based on this performance against a smaller team, and some of United’s showings against the big boys under Solskjaer, there is no reason for them to fear the likes of Inter Milan, Roma, Sevilla or Bayer Leverkusen.
|Who is left in the Europa League?|
|Bayer Leverkusen||FC Copenhagen|
|Wolves||Red Bull Salzburg or Eintracht Frankfurt|
Man of the match – Bruno Fernandes (Man Utd)
‘They created loads of chances’ – what they said
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: “I’m very happy. When you score goals and play like this, you’ll get more confidence. It was brilliant to see the start of the game. They had the right intent and created loads of chances. The game was more or less over after the red card.
“Bruno coming in makes a big, big difference. He had a hand in all three first-half goals. I’m very happy with his contribution.
“He’s in the middle of the season so he’s fit. He was in good form. We felt he was something we needed. It was a ready-made position for him.”
Fortress Old Trafford – the stats
- Manchester United are unbeaten in their past 13 home Europa League games (W11 D2) since losing to Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao in March 2012.
- Club Bruges have never won an away European match in England (including qualifiers), drawing two and losing 11 of 13 visits.
- United have won more penalties (15) and scored more penalties (11) in all competitions this season than any other Premier League side.
- The Red Devils have won a European game by a five-goal margin for the first time since November 2013 (5-0 v Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League group stage).
- Bruno Fernandes is the first Portuguese player to net in consecutive appearances for United in all competitions since Nani in April 2012.
- Odion Ighalo is the first African player to score for United in all competitions since Eric Bailly in August 2017 against Swansea in the Premier League.
- No player has provided more Europa League assists than Juan Mata (13, level with Czech midfielder Borek Dockal).
- Fred netted two goals and assisted one in the game, after managing just one goal and three assists in his previous 59 United appearances.
United visit Everton in the Premier League on Sunday, 1 March (14:00 GMT) as they look to boost their top-four hopes.