Manchester United marched into the Europa League quarter-finals after overcoming a spirited Real Betis side in Seville on Thursday evening, with the Red Devils securing a narrow, 1-0 victory to clinch a 5-1 aggregate scoreline in the tie.
Despite having gone into the second-leg clash with a commanding lead following the meeting at Old Trafford a week ago, United looked far from convincing in the opening exchanges this time around, having been left thankful for some errant finishing from Manuel Pellegrini’s men.
With the La Liga side still holding a shred of hope of getting back into the contest heading in at the break, man of the moment Marcus Rashford subsequently extinguished that belief with a stunning finish just before the hour mark, with the Englishman netting his 27th goal of the season in style.
That was to prove the end of the drama, in truth, as the Premier League giants comfortably saw out the closing stages, albeit with Erik ten Hag likely to have been frustrated by the at times nervous and erratic nature of his side’s display.
While not an overwhelming night of positives, one shining light was that of Uruguayan starlet, Facundo Pellistri, with the 21-year-old more than taking his chance on what was just his first start for the club.
The eye-catching winger – who was making just his seventh appearance for the club since signing back in 2020 – showed real bravery in his play as he attempted to make things happen for the visitors, notably completing three of his five dribbles, while also winning six duels on the night.
Aside from what was a frankly “ridiculous” early booking for the youngster – in the words of 90min’s Scott Saunders – it was an encouraging, rare run out for the former Penarol gem, with the hope being that he can now capitalise on the unfortunate injury blow to fellow forward, Alejandro Garnacho.
Pellistri was, however, not the only asset who took the opportunity to impress on the night, with summer signing Tyrell Malacia – who was one of four changes from the weekend draw with Southampton – producing a composed and dogged display at left-back.
How did Malacia perform against Betis?
After overcoming a ‘panicky‘ opening – as per Manchester Evening News journalist Samuel Luckhurst – the diminutive Dutchman truly grew into the game and became a real, effective presence at both ends of the pitch, having showcased that he will not give usual starter, Luke Shaw an easy ride in the battle for the full-back berth.
The former Feyenoord ace was a real outlet down the left flank as he notably completed three of his four dribbles and enjoyed an 87% pass accuracy rate from his 81 touches, having also won three fouls for his side to help relieve the pressure.
The 5 foot 7 “pitbull” – as previously described by ex-Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal – was a typically tenacious and relentless presence defensively as he won an impressive eight ground duels on the night.
While it was a far from perfect display, as the 23-year-old also lost possession on 11 occasions, Malacia did prove that he is a more than capable understudy for Shaw moving forward, with the left-back role seemingly one area that Ten Hag can comfortably rotate without seeing a drop off in quality.
Such competition is no doubt healthy amid what has been and will continue to be a hectic and breathless season for the resurgent outfit.