Manchester United and Bruno Fernandes proved they are one of the teams to beat in this season’s Europa League with a dominant 4-0 win over Real Sociedad which surely secures their place in the next round.
Once again Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turned to his Portuguese magician to provide the spark in Turin, and the attacker responded with two goals to, before Marcus Rashford and Daniel James also got on the scoresheet to put the tie beyond reach.
In a game in which the likes of Dean Henderson, Alex Telles, Eric Bailly, James and Mason Greenwood were all given a chance to nail down a starting spot in Solskjaer's first XI, it was still Fernandes who stuck out like a sore thumb as United’s main threat. In fact, only one of United's five shots on target in the first half didn’t involve their number 18.
James and Greenwood energised the attack out wide but the opener came after Marcus Rashford, a threat throughout, played a perfect ball over the top for Fernandes, who finished with ease after a defensive mix-up. While they went in at half-time one goal to the good, it could have been more.
They soon added to their tally after the break though, with Fernandes sweeping home a second. That latest goal meant that since his Europa League debut in February 2018, Fernandes has been involved in more goals in the competition than any other player (16 goals, eight assists).
Fred then threaded a brilliant ball through to Rashford, who finally got his name on the scoresheet having spurned two first-half chances, and James went on a driving run late on before finding the far corner to cap off an incredibly satisfactory night for Solskjaer's men.
With United now 10 points off Manchester City in the Premier League, out of the League Cup and facing a tricky FA Cup quarter-final against Leicester, this tournament provides a brilliant opportunity for Solskjaer to win a trophy. It is no surprise that he is taking things very seriously. United were simply dominant throughout, and this one will leave United fans delighted. Moreover, it will put the frighteners up the rest of the competition.
Meanwhile, Gareth Bale starred as Tottenham also recorded a comprehensive away win, beating Wolfsberg 4-1. Bale, who has lacked game time in the Premier League, assisted the first goal for Hueng-Min Son before scoring a thumping second goal to remind manager Jose Mourinho what he is all about. Lucas Moura added a third, and while Michael Liendl pulled one back from the penalty spot Carlos Vinicius netted to restore Spurs’ third-goal advantage.
Leicester City will be satisfied with their performance too after earning a creditable 0-0 draw away at Slavia Prague. Brendan Rodgers will be hopeful the side can progress at the King Power Stadium in the return leg next Thursday.
In one of the late kick-offs, Arsenal were left to rue missed chances as they drew 1-1 with Benfica in Rome. Captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang squandered three key opportunities and was subsequently substituted as Mikel Arteta’s side came from a goal down to score that all-important away goal.
Pizzi converted a penalty to put the ‘home’ side ahead before Bukayo Saka converted a flowing team move to bring the Gunners level just two minutes later. That away goal could prove crucial as Arsenal welcome Benfica to the Emirates next week, looking to reach the last 16.
But the real entertainment came in Belgium, where Steven Gerrard’s Rangers shared a thrilling goal-fest with Royal Antwerp. Joe Aribo, Borna Barisic (with two penalties) and Ryan Kent all scored to secure an epic 4-3 win and put the Scottish champions-elect in a strong position to qualify.
It looked set to be a tough night for the Glasgow side as they lost Kemar Roofe and James Tavernier in the first half and went in at the break 2-1 down. They fought back in style with Kent’s brilliant effort making it 3-3, and his shot moments later was blocked by the arm of Abdoulaye Seck in the Antwerp box, which led to the defender's sending-off and a last-minute penalty for the visitors. Barisic kept his nerve from 12 yards, striking his second spot-kick of the game into the top corner to give Rangers a famous win on a breathless night.