MANCHESTER, England — Manchester United bounced back from a horror show against Liverpool to take control of their Europa League tie with Real Betis with a 4-1 win over the Spanish club on Thursday.
United won their last-16 first leg at Old Trafford thanks to goals from Marcus Rashford, Anthony, Bruno Fernandes and Woute Weghurst and have one foot in the next round ahead of the return leg in Seville next week. Real Betis were level 1-1 at half-time after Leicester City forward Ayoze Perez equalised, but United scored three times in the second half to make amends for last weekend’s 7-0 loss at Anfield.
1. Fernandes backs down after criticism
Fernandez had a difficult few days after the 7-0 defeat by Liverpool. He has faced calls to step down from his role as United captain but backed by manager Erik ten Hag at his press conference on Wednesday, the Portugal midfielder repaid the faith with a performance that reminded everyone just how important he is.
Wearing the same armband as he did at Anfield, Fernandes was involved in United’s first goal when his cross could only be cleared into the path of Rashford. In the second half, he got on the scoresheet himself with a header from Luke Shaw’s cross and was greeted by chants of “Bruno, Bruno” from the stands as he slid on his knees towards the corner flag.
United snatched the tie from Real Betis with a superb second-half display and Fernandes was at the center of much of it. He had a bad day against Liverpool — along with everyone else — but he will be a key part of Ten Haag’s team. After the defeat to Liverpool both managers and supporters wanted a response and Fernandes was first in line.
2. Ten Hague tells United’s Anfield flop to fix their mess
Ten Hag has won plaudits for his man management this season, and his move after being humiliated at Anfield was to send out the same team against Real Betis. The Dutchman’s message was basically “fix it,” and finally, he got what he wanted.
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Ten Haag was relatively diplomatic in his prematch news conference on Wednesday, but he didn’t mince his words in his program notes. Writing directly to the fans, he said: “It is unacceptable for Manchester United to lose to any team like this, but especially not to Liverpool. I want to make it clear to you, our fans, that I am bitterly disappointed with the result and the players no doubt. No we can’t stand what we saw in the second half on Sunday.”
Ten Hague can be pleased with the reaction of his players after they started they had a point to prove. Weghurst had a goal ruled out for offside after just five minutes and just 60 seconds later, Rashford capitalized on a fast-break opportunity to put United ahead with a shot into the top corner of Claudio Bravo’s goal. Ten Haag said the aim was to move on from the nightmare against Liverpool as quickly as possible and despite a sticky spell after Real Betis got their equaliser, he got what he wanted.
3. Chances of a Real Betis shock are eliminated
If the Man United fans who turned up on a snowy Manchester night had underestimated Real Betis, they wouldn’t now. Roared on from their corner at Old Trafford by around 4,000 raucous fans, the Spanish side worried United when they were given breakaways and the technical quality of their fashion chances when they entered the penalty area.
Perez’s finish was exceptional for the equalizer — although there was a bit of luck as the ball rolled under Juanmi’s hands — and they could have gone ahead at half-time after another Perez effort hit Shaw and then the post. .
United’s European hopes have been ended by a Spanish side every season since winning the Europa League in 2017, and in the first half, Real Betis suggested they might be able to stay the course.
After conceding three times in the second half, Betis’ hopes of an upset are likely over, although Ten Hague will not take them lightly in the return leg in Spain next week. A deficit of one or two goals could have been dealt with, but the tie settled after losing 4-1.
Best and worst performers
Best: Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United. After his poor performance against Liverpool he produced a goal and a bounce back.
Best: Ayoz Perez, Real Betis. It was a great finish that curled inside the far post and made it 1-1.
Best: Marcus Rashford, Manchester United. Six minutes later scored his 26th goal of the season with a powerful finish from the penalty area.
Worst: Claudio Bravo, Real Betis. The former Manchester City goalkeeper allowed Fernandez’s header to go wide.
Worst: David De Gea, Manchester United. One of those nights when his delivery caused problems.
Worst: Luiz Felipe, Real Betis. Created confusion by attempting to clear Fernandes’ cross, which led to Rashford’s goal.
Highlights and notable moments
Anthony has some left foot, doesn’t he?
Anthony pushes the ball into the far corner. 🥶 pic.twitter.com/L5IqCN6SVB
— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) March 9, 2023
After the match: What the players/managers said
Rashford: “It’s always important to win the next game after a loss, it’s the only way to continue the momentum we had before the game and bounce back.”
Perez: “United’s second goal probably took the wind out of our sails a bit and we didn’t react well enough. It doesn’t leave us with a good feeling. But, at home, in front of our great fans, absolutely anything can happen.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Data Research)
– Rashford’s goal snapped a two-game scoreless streak. The United forward has not gone without a goal in three games since October.
– Rashford has the most goals (26) this season in 2020-21 (21) and 2021-22 (5) combined.
Man United: United will return to the comfortable confines of Old Trafford for their Premier League clash against Southampton on Sunday.
Real Bets: The Sevilla club will travel to the east coast of Spain for a date with Villarreal in La Liga. (1:30 p.m. ET, streaming live on ESPN+).