Europa LeagueMatch Report

Manchester United secure place in Europa League quarter-finals with win at Real Betis

Marcus Rashford scores the only goal of second leg at the Benito Villamarin Stadium

Real Betis 0 Manchester United 1 (Man Utd progress 5-1 on aggregate)

Two minutes before 8pm local time, 55 minutes into this game, the Benito Villamarín rose to its feet and began to applaud, Real Betis’s fans then breaking into song of praise for their players. They hadn’t scored; Manchester United had, Marcus Rashford sending an astonishing shot spearing past Rui Silva to make him the Europa League’s top scorer and, they knew, take Manchester United through, 1-0 up on the night, 5-1 on aggregate. But they had always suspected that would happen and although there was half an hour left now it was over, so they stood, recognition and resignation in their reaction.

“Once you have scored the first goal the game is gone for them. They don’t have the belief any more and you have to manage that,” Erik ten Hag said. “I am very pleased.” Ultimately, his United team had eased into the quarterfinals, where they will surely be favourites. They also escaped the greatest risk they had faced, Casemiro and Bruno Fernandes avoiding suspensions.

Superiority told. The surprise perhaps that there was only one goal: once Rashford provided it, Harry Maguire headed over, Wout Weghorst shot at Silva, and Jadon Sancho went clean through, an offside flag rescuing him from a wasted chance, as United racked up 17 shots. Betis, meanwhile, had taken 15, feeling they might be in this until that shot took their hopes with it. They had fallen but that, Manuel Pellegrini had already insisted, would not mean they had failed – and the fans felt the same. “In the end it’s quality; they’re superior,” the coach conceded.


Betis had competed, for 55 minutes at least – about as long as they had lasted at Old Trafford. “Hope goes hand in hand with realism,” Pellegrini had said. Betis had never overcome more than a one-goal deficit in Europe, let alone three, and still less against Manchester United, “a Champions League team in the Europa League”. There is, he claimed, a ten-fold difference in their budgets but that didn’t mean there would be no belief. Fans arrived early, gathered singing in the sunshine, orange blossom announcing spring. They were determined to try; above all, they came to enjoy this.

They had to score three but, as Pellegrini said, they didn’t have to get them all in five minutes. If one came early enough, who knows? Ultimately, none did, but for a while the prospect of them making an occasion if not an actual comeback of this was real. Although Facundo Pellistri escaped just 40 seconds into an impressive first United start, it was who Betis applied pressure early, Ayoze Pérez taking aim inside four minutes. That was blocked by Casemiro, putting out fires.

Betis could have had the lead seven minutes in. Weghorst dived for a header he only just failed to reach after Casemiro nodded on a corner and then suddenly Juanmi was away at the other end, released by Pérez. Clean through, his shot beat David de Gea but ran past the post. “Yes, we can!” the chant ran, the optimism contagious as, almost immediately, Betis nearly got through the same space between Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

Momentum was building. From 20 yards Joaquín, who was already a year into his career when Pellistri was born in 2001, curled a wonderful shot off the post. Joaquín is 41, but for a moment he was 19 again, lovely feet then taking him past Casemiro. The final pass didn’t quite come off then; seconds later it did, slipping in Juanmi again. Lisandro Martínez had to scramble away, he and Maguire soon in animated, concerned discussion. Again Betis got through, Aitor Ruibal’s angled pass setting Juanmi free only for De Gea to save.

United had been under pressure, but it wasn’t permanent. Casemiro and Fernandes took responsibility and control, the former demonstrating his capacity to time and weigh a pass. Pellistri was lively, always willing to run. And Rashford remained the man they feared most. Fernandes struck over, then saw a shot charged down by Edgar González, and just before half-time Pellistri hit the post with Weghorst, diving to reach it, unable to force the ball over the line.

As the second half began, Rashford couldn’t take a chance made for him by Pellistri and Casemiro. The Uruguayan drew everyone towards him and found the Brazilian who dropped it off for Rashford, alone, but Silva saved. A moment later, he had another but, all alone, sliced a wild shot too high. Between those two efforts, Pérez’s header was saved by De Gea.

That was Betis’s 12th attempt, United had nine and more followed. It had been frantic and fun and just when you were wondering how this was still 0-0, it wasn’t. Just when you were wondering how Rashford had not scored from the previous two he did so from a place far less likely. Twenty-five yards out, no warning except his very presence, a flash of his boot and the ball was flying into the corner taking Manchester United through and Betis’s hope with them. – Guardian