Manchester United recovered from being 1-0 down against the Austrian side, LASK, to win the second leg of their last 16 Europa League match 2-1. Their goals came from a 57-minute effort from Jessie Lingard, and an 88th-minute match-winner from Anthony Martial. United won on aggregate by 7 goals to 1.
The Red Devils will play Copenhagen in the quarter-finals, a match they are expected to win with relative ease. They will, however, want to field a much stronger side to be assured of getting through to the semi-final stages.
Without some of their top players, including the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial, and Paul Pogba, it was no surprise the team would be lacking in invention, creativity, and a serious attacking threat. And so it proved, even though Martial came off the bench to score the winner four with four minutes to go.
The only light to shine through was the performance of their veteran Spanish playmaker, Juan Mata. He alone showed the guile and vision to unlock the Austrian side’s defence. He laid on both goals.
The fact that the January arrival, Bruno Fernandes, has settled down so well does at least provide some comfort in Mata’s absence. Whether the Spaniard stays or leaves, he is unlikely to take part in many more games. He will probably be used as a substitute or to play out cameo roles if he remains at Old Trafford, but Fernandes will not be found lacking as his replacement.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is in a good place at the moment. He can field his “A” team for the rest of the Europa League tournament, and they must have a strong chance of running out tournament winners. But it is going on from there where his problems lie.
If the Red Devils are to challenge for Premiership honours next season and make a strong challenge in the Champions League, they desperately need new blood. That was proved by the performance, or lack of, by many of the players that were fielded against LASK.
United must make some good summer transfer signings to strengthen their squad. They are not alone. Another club that will live or die on the strength of their summer signings is Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur.
We know that United are pursuing several players. The names Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho, and Alex Telles are being bandied around with gay abandon. You can see who else is being linked with talk of a transfer to Old Trafford, or elsewhere by checking out the “Who could be moving to the Premier League?” summary.
United seem to do well when they dip their toe into the Portuguese Premier League waters. That is where Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani can from, and their signing of Bruno Fernandes in last January’s transfer window is looking like the bargain of the year. So, maybe Alex Telles will be their next success if they can beat rivals Chelsea to the punch.
The 27-year-old Brazilian-born full-back has scored 13 goals and contributed 12 assists to FC Porto’s campaign this last season, and he could prove invaluable to Solskjaer’s hopes for next season.