Manchester United 1 FC Copenhagen 0
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was known as a super-sub during his Manchester United playing days and it was an inspired substitution by our manager that helped his side to land a hard-fought 1-0 victory over a dogged FC Copenhagen side in Cologne on Monday night.
Juan Mata’s lively introduction changed the game for the Reds, as the Spaniard fed Anthony Martial who was fouled in the box, allowing our penalty expert Bruno Fernandes to slot home and book us a place in the Europa League semi-finals, against either Wolves or Sevilla on Sunday.Solskjaer admitted before the game he had a decision to make on his goalkeepers and he plumped for Sergio Romero between the sticks, the stopper for our Europa League final triumph against Ajax in 2017.
In front of Romero was a back four of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Eric Bailly, captain Harry Maguire and Brandon Williams. Fred and Paul Pogba anchored the midfield, while Fernandes joined Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford in supporting centre-forward Martial.
United were looking to make a strong start but it was the Danes who began brighter and indeed it was a relief not to see them take the lead.
Thirteen minutes in, a deflected cross from the right fell to the feet of Mohammed Daramy a few yards from goal, but Bailly did really well to step in front of him and just about nudge the ball away.
United were then grateful for a Williams diving header that was almost off the line, after a Copenhagen corner flicked off Martial’s head across the face of goal. Daramy got in again on 17 minutes after Fred had lost possession 30 yards from goal but thankfully Maguire got a vital block in and Pogba was there to clear the follow-up effort by Jonas Wind.
Eight minutes from the break, Daramy had another decent sight of goal when a cross came in from the right towards him, but Bailly just managed to get in ahead of him to clear.
The Reds finished the half on top and were unlucky not to go in 1-0 up. After Martial appeared to have been bundled to the ground in the area by former Reds defender Guillermo Varela, the Frenchman then couldn’t quite get a shot away after being found by Wan-Bissaka from the right.
Rashford stung the palms of Copenhagen goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson, before Greenwood finished brilliantly, only for his effort to be unfortunately but rightly ruled out for offside by VAR.
Soon after this, Fernandes lobbed a lovely pass into the path of Rashford, who was just unable to get enough contact. Copenhagen then attacked with Jonas Wind taking aim from inside the box but in truth he wasted the chance with a poor effort, much to United’s relief. The woodwork was then rattled at the other end again when Fernandes fired a bouncing effort against Johnsson’s right-hand post.
It was hard to believe this game was still 0-0 and even more so after an incredible bit of skill from Rasmus Falk on 66 minutes down the right which led to Copenhagen substitute and former Everton man Bryan Oviedo having a glorious chance to score, but Wan-Bissaka thankfully blocked the effort as Romero flew across his goal expecting the shot.
It was all happening now as Fernandes then let fly from 25 yards, leading to Johnsson pushing the ball into the air as it moved all over the place on its way towards goal.
As the clock ticked down, Martial had a go with one of his curling specials but Johnsson clawed it away well with a strong hand. The Frenchman then weaved his way brilliantly through the Copenhagen defence in injury time and looked to have the chance to shoot and win it for United, but Victor Nelsson came across to put in a superb tackle at the vital moment and so into extra time we went.
Mata replaced Greenwood at the start of the first period of extra-time and it proved to be a masterstroke as he created a host of openings for the Reds almost immediately. First he was involved in a move which saw Martial have a shot blocked point-blank by Johnsson from a tight angle.
Johnsson then saved well from Martial after the striker jinked his way through on goal following another move involving Mata. And seconds later the Spaniard turned in the box and crossed to Martial who was fouled by Andreas Bjelland. The referee pointed to the spot and Fernandes fired home brilliantly.
Martial and Mata were involved again soon after as Martial repaid the favour to the substitute with a great backheel but Mata’s shot was blocked. The 32-year-old then had another sight of goal on 103 minutes but he couldn’t keep his effort down.
Right at the end of the first half of extra-time, Johnsson was in inspired form in the Copenhagen goal as he made a splendid tip round the post from Fernandes’ curling shot. The stopper then stuck a foot out to somehow block Mata’s shot in the box, before Lindelof sent the rebound against the post and wide.
Copenhagen needed to go for it after the restart and United needed to defend well and that we did. There were a few nervy moments as we entered the dying seconds but the Reds held firm and sealed a last-four spot.
United: Romero; Wan-Bissaka, Bailly (Lindelof 70), Maguire (c), Williams; Pogba, Fred (Matic 70); Greenwood (Mata 91), Fernandes, Rashford (Lingard 113); Martial (McTominay 120).
Subs not used: De Gea, Fosu-Mensah, Mengi, Pereira, Chong, James, Ighalo.
Goal: Fernandes (pen 95).
Booked: Maguire, Bailly.
FC Copenhagen: Johnsson; Varela (Bartolec 105), Nelsson, Bjelland, Boilesen (Bengtsson 15); Pep Biel (Oviedo 57), Stage (Mudražija 105), Zeca; Daramy (Kaufmann 57), Wind, Falk (Bøving 111).
Subs not used: Andersen (GK), Grytebust (GK), Papagiannopoulos, Hjælmhof.
Booked: Kaufmann, Stage, Zeca.
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