Manchester United edged past Granada on Thursday evening courtesy of goals from Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes either side of half-time. The former expertly controlled a long ball forward by Harry Maguire and poked past the flailing Rui Silva between the sticks to give the Red Devils the lead in their hunt to reach the Europa League semi-finals.
Fernandes doubled his side’s advantage in the final minute of normal time, dispatching yet another penalty to provide some breathing space going into next week’s second-leg clash at Old Trafford.
United were widely expected to overcome their latest Spanish test against the unfancied hosts, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side produced a dominant performance that was deservedly recognised with victory.
However, the 20-time Premier League champions could be set for a tricky affair when they entertain Granada once again in seven days’ time, as they will be missing three of their most important players.
The trio of Maguire, Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay will miss the second leg after they were all booked on Thursday evening.
The former was a strong performer for United, helping to keep a valuable clean sheet and catching the eye with some impressive distribution, and his presence will be sorely missed at the back.
Eric Bailly, who missed the match in Spain after being diagnosed with COVID-19 while on international duty, appears likely to fill the role.
The 26-year-old has failed to impress at times this season and would not be trusted by Solskjaer to perform on the biggest stage with a complete squad at the Norwegian’s disposal.
Meanwhile, Shaw has arguably been United’s best performer this season aside from Fernandes, making the left-back spot well and truly his own despite the arrival of Alex Telles in the summer.
The England defender has struggled considerably since joining the club from Southampton in 2014, suffering with injuries and failing to see eye-to-eye with former boss Jose Mourinho.
However, Solskjaer has been overwhelmingly successful in finally getting the best out of Shaw, who scooped the Premier League’s Player of the Month award for February as a welcome reward for his efforts.
Telles will need to step up and produce a worthy performance in the second leg if United are to retain their two-goal advantage.
McTominay will also be forced to watch from the stands, which is sure to come as another huge blow for his side.
The young Scot has cemented a regular starting spot alongside Paul Pogba with a number of consistently impressive performances since the beginning of the campaign.
It seems as though Donny van de Beek could be drafted into the side to feature in a deep-lying role for the return fixture against Granada.
The Dutchman has struggled to perform when deployed in front of United’s back four, but cannot afford to be a passenger in a decisive Europa League quarter-final clash so will need to find his best form.
With 50 per cent of Solskjaer’s preferred back line and a highly influential midfielder ruled out through suspension, the possibility of a sensational comeback by the Spanish underdogs cannot be entirely ruled out.
Much stranger things have happened and the Red Devils must not allow themselves to get complacent.
If they concede early on then doubts could begin to seep in, and with Telles, Bailly and Van de Beek lacking match sharpness, it could easily turn into a horribly nervy encounter with every chance of swinging the other way.