Granada vs Manchester United: Five things we learned after Marcus Rashford earns Europa League win

Rashford essential to The Solskjaer Way

It was telling that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted on starting Marcus Rashford against Granada despite admitting before kick-off that the England forward was still feeling some effects of his recent injury. That much was clear when Rashford began hobbling gingerly in the early minutes, before battling through. Rashford’s selection, despite carrying a knock and despite the importance of the top-four race with a crucial game at Tottenham to come on the weekend, showed just how vital he has become to Solskjaer. There were moments last season when he could be rotated, but not any more. Rashford is on a level with captain Harry Maguire, talisman Bruno Fernandes and the reliable full-back duo of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw in being essential to every starting line-up, regardless of the opponent or the tactics required.

He lasted two thirds of the game before being replaced by Edinson Cavani, and it was enough time to score a crucial away goal with a brilliant run, first touch and composed finish on the end of Victor Lindelof’s long pass. If the substitution indicated anything it was that Rashford will be one of the first names on the teamsheet again come the weekend, even if it means playing through the pain.

Goalkeeper battle has it all on the line

David de Gea’s selection here suggested he is not yet down and out in his battle with Dean Henderson for United’s gloves over the course of the season’s end. There is an awful lot at stake: should Henderson lock down the position then not only could he find himself playing a major European final in the Europa League, but he might even have an outside shot at ousting Jordan Pickford as England’s No 1 for the summer’s rescheduled Euro 2020. What’s more, De Gea will almost certainly look to leave the club at the end of the season should he find himself usurped. He too has an international place at stake, while a stunning decade at Old Trafford could finally draw to an end. De Gea did well enough here without ever being strenuously tested, doing just enough to remind Solskjaer of his talents, but only time will tell if he can win back his place in the Premier League.

Suspensions cast slight shadow

Scott McTominay, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw picked up yellow cards and all three will be unavailable for the second leg at Old Trafford. None of the incidents seemed particularly necessary, and while the Portuguese referee was often pernickety during the match it was difficult for United to have any major complaints. Given the state of the game and the opposition – Granada are ninth in La Liga and in their first ever European quarter-final – perhaps the trio will not be missed, and certainly Maguire could do with a rest after an enormous workload this season. But the ill-discipline will be a concern to Solskjaer as he assesses a squad already burdened by injury.

United favourites for a reason

United have been widely labelled the favourites to win the Europa League, and watching this tie it was easy to see why. They never got into top gear but then they never needed to, producing a composed performance which sets them up well to progress to the semi-finals, and showing why they are a cut above some of their rivals in this tournament. It would not be an easy last-four tie, with Roma likely to be their opponents given the Italian side’s away win at Ajax this evening. But the reality is that it will take something impressive to knock Solskjaer’s multi-talented side out of the competition.

Bruno pads those phenomenal stats

A stat popped up that Bruno Fernandes has scored in every one of the past 11 months – a quirk of the pandemic-adjusted calendar, of course, but also a sign of his relentless consistency. The odd thing is that Fernandes can be frustratingly inconsistent during individual games, but his high-risk approach brings regular rewards over the season. This was one of his quieter matches and he was nowhere near his terrifying best, yet he still delivered something from the penalty spot to make it 24 goals and 14 assists this season in 46 United games.

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