Anthony Martial scored his 14th goal of the season as Manchester United drew 1-1 at Club Bruges in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie.
The visitors started poorly and fell behind when Emmanuel Dennis lobbed Sergio Romero early in the first half.
United equalised when Martial raced through to beat ex-Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet one-on-one.
Mignolet tipped a Martial shot onto the post but Odilon Kossounou should have won it for Bruges but bent wide.
January signing Odion Ighalo made his second appearance from the bench in as many games in the closing stages but did not really have an opportunity to show what he could be capable of in a Manchester United shirt.
In the end, the visitors will be the happier of the two sides after securing a potentially crucial away goal despite a largely below-par-performance not helped by the difficult conditions created by persistent heavy rain and a strong wind.
The two sides will meet again at Old Trafford on 27 February.
Martial puts below-par United in driving seat
After back-to-back Premier League defeats in January, Manchester United have enjoyed an upturn in form in recent weeks with three wins and a draw in their four games before the trip to Belgium.
An impressive 2-0 win at Chelsea on Monday gave United the ideal platform to build on but six changes to that side threatened to disrupt any momentum they were building and so it proved as the visitors put in a disjointed and uninspiring performance for large periods of this game.
United’s three-man defence – particularly in the opening half hour – looked fragile and exposed and Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer’s side failed to heed an early warning when Nigerian striker Dennis got in on the right before Victor Lindelof scrambled away.
Consequently, they were punished with quarter-of-an-hour gone when Mignolet launched the ball down the pitch and Dennis got inbetween two defenders before coolly lifting the ball over the onrushing Romero.
From then on Bruges looked certain to add to their lead as United struggled to settle but a mistake at the back was clinically pounced on by Martial as he ran on to a poor throw-in, outpaced a defender before beating Mignolet at his near post.
Martial has often struggled to live up to the high-expectations placed upon him when United paid £36m to sign the forward from Monaco in 2015, making him the most expensive teenager in world football.
However, he was the standout United player in this game and was unlucky not to add a second when Mignolet pushed his shot onto the post just before half-time.
Martial has now scored in back-to-back games and, with 14 goals to his name already, he is on course to surpass his previous best tally for a season – the 17 goals he scored in his debut campaign for United in 2015-16.
Another positive to come from the game was the late cameo from Bruno Fernandes. The Portugal midfielder – signed from Sporting Lisbon in January – was introduced with nine minutes to go but his desire to get the ball and his positive, forward thinking was yet another indication that he can become a key player for United in the coming seasons.
Dennis shines for bold Bruges
Club Bruges went into this game as a side in form. The Belgians are the runaway leaders in their domestic league and were unbeaten in their 12 previous games in all competitions.
The confidence such a good run provides was evident from the outset as they took the game to United, led by the hugely impressive Dennis.
The Nigeria international has shown he is a player for the big occasions, having scored two goals against Real Madrid in the Champions League this season – before Bruges dropped into the Europa League – and he was unfortunate not to finish with a couple of goals on Thursday night.
His quick feet and good close control was a constant menace to the visiting defence and he will be the player Solskjaer’s side will need to be the most wary of if they are to avoid an upset in the return leg.
Bruges are winless in their last 11 meetings with English sides in all competitions (D3 L8) since a 1-0 win against Chelsea in the 1994-95 Cup Winner’s Cup quarter-final.
Mignolet makes it count – the stats
- Manchester United are unbeaten in their last four away games in all competitions (W3 D1), their longest unbeaten streak on the road since March 2019, when they won nine in a row.
- Club Bruges have kept just one clean sheet in their last 10 Europa League matches, failing to do so in their last five games in the competition (excluding qualifiers).
- Dennis’ opener against United ended the English side’s run of 408 minutes without conceding in all competitions.
- United forward Martial has been directly involved in four goals in his last four appearances on the road in all competitions (three goals, one assist), as many as in his previous 10 games.
- Mignolet is the first goalkeeper to provide an assist in the Europa League since Guilherme for Lokomotiv Moscow against Sporting Lisbon in September 2015.
Manchester United return to Premier League action this weekend as they host Watford on Sunday, 23 February (14:00 GMT).
Article courtesy of BBC Sport