Erik Ten Hag will be delighted that there’s really very little to say after the second leg of their Europa League last-16 clash with Real Betis.
It’s not such good news for us, sure, but Ten Hag is a selfish egg and probably won’t care about that at all. Honestly, the nerve.
Everything went to plan, though. Given the fixture load that United have already got through and the even greater toil that awaits them, a 1-0 win was the order of the day. Marcus Rashford scored a lovely goal as he generally does these days, and Casemiro avoided both another straight red card and indeed the yellow card that would’ve ruled him out of the first leg of the quarter-final.
That red card against Southampton gave Ten Hag a bit of a problem here, pretty much compelling him to pick Casemiro and give him 90 minutes upon the tightrope. He got the job done.
Betis, to be entirely fair to them, have played a fuller part in the tie than a 5-1 aggregate scoreline suggests. They, as they had to do, come out punching in the first 15 or 20 minutes and had they got the early goal then maybe tonight could have become fraught. But they didn’t and it didn’t.
They were good opposition, were Betis. Good enough to make the tie fun and entertaining, not good enough to truly stretch United who don’t need any greater stretching than is necessary right now, thank you.
This was the sort of tie that calls firmly into question the accepted wisdom that playing the second leg at home is an advantage. If you’re demonstrably the superior team, playing at home is definitely an advantage as long as you take care of business the way United eventually did at Old Trafford last week. Compare and contrast with Arsenal’s situation against Sporting; they’ll probably still be fine, but they couldn’t put the tie to bed in Lisbon the way they may well have done had the first game been in London.
And while we’re not quite going to go right ahead and say 7-0 defeats at Anfield or goalless draws with Southampton are good results, there is a case to be made that a clear focus of where United’s priorities should now lie is welcome. Their top-four spot is all but sewn up, but there is no daft talk of quadruples now. An FA Cup quarter-final comes this weekend, and United are in a position to throw all their effort at trying to add another pot or two to last month’s Carabao success.
The goal wasn’t particularly necessary tonight, but it did just ensure nothing untoward might happen and when you’ve got someone doing the sort of things Rashford is doing this season you just want it to keep on rolling. The confidence in the way he took the goal was palpable, and it’s a goal he simply wouldn’t have scored 12 or 18 months ago. He quite possibly wouldn’t even have attempted it – especially as he’d missed a couple of easier ones not long before. We’re repeating ourselves, but watching him play like this is just an absolute joy for so many reasons.
Harry Maguire celebrated another England call-up with a rare 90 minutes, while Facundo Pellistri never looked out of place on his first senior start and coped well with the setback of a harsh yellow card. And there was even a chance for Bruno Fernandes to get a rare 20 minutes off in an exhausting season.
All in all, it’s just a quietly satisfactory evening for United and we’re at the stage of the season when those can have much greater impact down the line than might be immediately apparent. The quadruple may have gone but was never really on; this is already a very decent season for United and could yet be an extraordinary one.