Rashford extra special but Manchester United count cost with Anderlecht win
Relieved Jose Mourinho declared his trust in Marcus Rashford repaid as the striker's extra time winner kept alive Manchester United's hopes of Champions League football next season, through the Europa League back door.
United are in the Europa League semi-finals, thanks to the teenager's decisive goal as unfancied Belgian visitors Anderlecht forced an extra 30 minutes after a 1-1 draw in normal time left the tie balanced at 2-2 over the two legs.
Mourinho's side, surprisingly showing five changes from Sunday's impressive 2-0 win over Chelsea, lived dangerously at times until Rashford struck after 107 minutes to ease the Old Trafford nerves.
The United boss has used Rashford sparingly, despite his record of vital goals, but said: "Some players don't know what makes me trust a player but Marcus I trust."
The win came at a cost as striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic suffered what seemed to be a serious leg injury when he hyper-extended his knee, with Marcos Rojo also leaving the field injured. Ibrahimovich may have played his last game of the season.
Mourinho added: “Someone could watch the match and say total domination but they started better than us and had good chances and controlled the game for half an hour.
“At 1-1 you are at risk. Okay, you speak about his (Rashford’s) qualities but he was not scoring a goal since September. I kept the confidence in him.”
Ibrahimovic suffered what seemed to be a serious leg injury when he hyper-extended his knee, with Rojo also leaving the field injured. “I prefer to wait for all the tests to be done tomorrow then speak what I feel. I’m just a manager not a doctor,” Mourhino said when asked about the seriousness of the injuries.
He added: “When it is not mathematically possible to qualify (for the Champions League) through the Premier League is when we put everything into the Europa League.
“It is an important title and we have to keep going. Today showed how difficult it is. We are not expecting anything easy in the semi-finals.” Mourinho, who has now reached his 10th European semi-final as a manager, equalling the record of Sir Alex Ferguson and Giovanni Trapattoni, said that he felt Chris Smalling and Phil Jones need to be braver, by helping the club through a looming central defensive crisis.
The United boss said that he would be prepared to come back from injury far sooner than Jones and Smalling.
“Tomorrow,” would be his target, he said.
Both players will be bemused by his comments, with Smalling already having been criticised by the Portuguese for pulling out of a game at Swansea City when he had broken a toe, earlier this season.
Mourinho said that Smalling and Jones had to play through the pain.
“We have (Eric) Bailly and (Daley) Blind who have experience and it’s time for Jones and Smalling to be brave — to (take a) risk — because for the team you have to do everything. You can’t do miracles but you have to try to do everything to accelerate the process.”
Asked when he thinks Smalling, who has a knee injury, and Jones should make themselves available, Mourinho said: “If it was me I think tomorrow.”
Later, he accepted that they had shown bravery before, and said: “They cannot make miracles. They have injuries and even in the crazy mentality they cannot play Sunday. There are no miracles but with special spirit you can sooner than expected.
“So instead of come (back) mid-May you can come beginning of May.”
United were unconvincing and missed scores of chances against the Belgians, leaving Mourinho looking tired and sounding tetchy during his press conference.
He said: “I’m relieved, relieved, difficult game. I’m tired.
“I imagine the players are more tired then me but we are in the draw tomorrow and we still have the dream to win the competition.”