Manchester United secured an away win against Celta Vigo in the first leg of the Europa League semi-final thanks to a superb free-kick from Marcus Rashford.
The Englishman has stepped up in recent weeks and has taken his opportunity after the injury suffered by Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It was never going to be a classic, but Jose Mourinho’s side delivered a professional performance and earned a good away result.
They will go into the second leg with confidence that they can qualify for the final in Stockholm.
Here are three things that we learnt in Spain…
Manchester United are two matches away from the Champions League
The Europa League has received an unfair reputation in England and it hasn’t been taken as seriously as a result.
Manchester United didn’t consider it a priority at the beginning of the season and Mourinho made that clear.
However, they have struggled to earn wins in the Premier League and this competition has emerged as their best chance of reaching the Champions League.
The Red Devils need to be in Europe’s premier competition to continue their development under Mourinho.
This was a difficult tie for United as Celta Vigo have an exciting front three and have shown already in this competition that they can score goals.
However, Mourinho approached the tie in the right way and managed to finish the first leg in a commanding position. If they finish the job off next week, United would go into the final as favourites.
It is shaping up to be a fascinating final as it looks like it will be Manchester United against Ajax. These are two massive clubs in the history of European football and it would be an occasion that would raise the profile of the competition.
There are still two matches to play before that stage and it is crucial that neither side get complacent.
Marcus Rashford is proving his worth to Jose Mourinho
Throughout his managerial career, Jose Mourinho hasn’t had a great track record with young players and many doubted whether he would get the best out of Marcus Rashford.
The United boss didn’t use the teenager a lot at the beginning of the season and has since utilised him as an impact sub. He has predominantly been used as a winger, with Ibrahimovic being the favoured striker at Old Trafford.
However, the injury to the Swede has given an opportunity to the academy graduate and he is making the most of it.
On Thursday, Rashford was the match-winner as he scored a brilliant free kick to separate the two teams. It was an example of his technical ability and his impressive mentality, as he stepped up at a crucial time of the game.
Given that Paul Pogba was on the pitch, it was a surprise that the 19-year-old was allowed to take the free kick, but he took the chance to show what he could do.
His intelligent movement caused the La Liga side problems all evening and was reliable in possession, finishing the match with 86% pass accuracy, which included two key passes.
Manchester United have a crucial month ahead and their teenage striker has a huge part to play in that.
Paul Pogba showed what United have been missing in recent matches
The world’s most expensive player has been widely criticised in the media this season, but he is crucial to the way that Manchester United play and that has been evident in recent matches. He returned from injury on Thursday and United instantly looked better in the attacking half.
Pogba has the ability to play defence-splitting forward passes and United have missed that. The Frenchman was excellent in Spain, as he was central to everything that was good about United in possession. He completed 82% of his passes and made one key pass during the match.
Although Manchester United haven’t still haven’t got the best from Pogba, he remains one of the best midfielders in the world. It is clear on the pitch that he is a level above everyone else and Mourinho will be hoping to make the right additions this summer to get even more out of his star midfielder.
His ability to carry the ball makes him great to watch in transition and he completed five dribbles on Thursday, which was more than anyone else on the pitch. It is great for United to have him back and they will be hoping that he can remain fit for the run-in.
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