MANCHESTER, England — Manchester United bounced back from the horror show against Liverpool to take control of their Europa League tie with Real Betis by beating the Spanish club 4-1 on Thursday.
United won their last-16 first-leg fixture at Old Trafford thanks to goals from Marcus Rashford, Antony, Bruno Fernandes and Wout Weghorst and have one foot in the next round ahead of the return fixture in Seville next week. Real Betis were level at 1-1 at half-time after on-loan Leicester City forward Ayoze Perez equalised, but United scored three times in the second half to make some amends for the 7-0 defeat at Anfield last weekend.
1. Fernandes bounces back after criticism
It’s been a tough few days for Fernandes after he was singled out for criticism more than most in the wake of the 7-0 defeat at Liverpool. He has faced calls to be stripped of his role as one of United’s captains but, backed by manager Erik ten Hag at his news conference on Wednesday, the Portugal midfielder repaid the faith with a performance to remind everyone just how important he is.
Wearing the armband just as he did at Anfield, Fernandes was involved in United’s early first goal when his cross could only be cleared into Rashford’s path. In the second half, he got on the scoresheet himself with a header from Luke Shaw’s cross and as he celebrated with a knee slide toward the corner flag, he was greeted by chants of “Bruno, Bruno” from the stands.
United took the tie away from Real Betis with an impressive display in the second half and Fernandes was at the centre of most of it. He had a bad day against Liverpool — along with everyone else — but he will remain a key part of Ten Hag’s team. Both the manager and the fans wanted a reaction after the defeat to Liverpool, and Fernandes was first in line.
2. Ten Hag tells United’s Anfield flops to fix their mess
Ten Hag has won praise for his man management this season, and his move after the humiliation at Anfield was to send out the same team against Real Betis. The message from the Dutchman was essentially “fix it” and, eventually, he got what he wanted.
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Ten Hag was relatively diplomatic in his prematch news conference on Wednesday, but he didn’t mince his words in his programme notes. Writing directly to supporters, he said: “It is not acceptable for Manchester United to lose in that fashion to any team, but especially not to Liverpool. I want to make clear to you, our fans, that I share your bitter disappointment about the result and the players have been left in no doubt that we cannot tolerate what we saw in the second half on Sunday.”
Ten Hag can be pleased with the response from his players after they started like they had a point to prove. Weghorst had a goal ruled out for offside after just five minutes, and barely 60 seconds later, Rashford capitalised on a quick break to put United ahead with a shot rattled into the top corner of Claudio Bravo’s goal. Ten Hag said the aim was to move on as quickly as possible from the nightmare against Liverpool and, despite a sticky spell after Real Betis got their equaliser, he got what he wanted.
3. Real Betis’ chances of shock slip away
If the Man United fans who turned up on a snowy Manchester night had underestimated Real Betis, they won’t now. Roared on by nearly 4,000 noisy fans from their corner of Old Trafford, the Spanish side worried United when they were given opportunities to break and had the technical quality to fashion chances when they got into the penalty area.
Perez’s finish for the equaliser was exceptional — although there was a bit of luck in the buildup with the ball appearing to roll down Juanmi’s arm — and they could have been ahead at half-time after another Perez effort hit Shaw and then the post.
United’s European hopes have been ended by a team from Spain in every season since winning the Europa League in 2017, and in the first half, Real Betis suggested they might be capable of continuing the curse.
After conceding three times in the second half, Betis’ hopes of causing an upset are probably over, though Ten Hag won’t be taking them lightly in the return game in Spain next week. A one- or two-goal deficit might have been manageable, but after losing 4-1, the tie is all but decided.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United. He created a goal and scored one to bounce back after his miserable performance against Liverpool.
BEST: Ayoze Perez, Real Betis. Had a wonderful finish that curved inside the far post and made it 1-1.
BEST: Marcus Rashford, Manchester United. Scored his 26th goal of the season with an emphatic finish from inside the penalty area after six minutes.
WORST: Claudio Bravo, Real Betis. The former Manchester City goalkeeper let Fernandes’ header shoot through his hands.
WORST: David de Gea, Manchester United. One of those nights when his distribution caused problems.
WORST: Luiz Felipe, Real Betis. Made a mess of trying to clear Fernandes’ cross, which led to Rashford’s goal.
Highlights and notable moments
Antony has some left foot on him, doesn’t he?
ANTONY CARESSED 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 is always important to win the next fixture after a loss, it is the only way to bounce back and continue to the momentum we had before the game.”
Perez: “United’s second goal probably took the wind out of our sails a little and we didn’t react well enough. It doesn’t leave us with a good feeling. However, at home, in front of our great fans, absolutely anything can happen.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
– Rashford’s goal snapped a two-game scoreless streak. The United forward hasn’t gone three games without a goal since October.
– Rashford has as many goals this season across all competitions (26) as he did in 2020-21 (21) and 2021-22 (5) combined.
Manchester United: United will return to the comfortable confines of Old Trafford on Sunday for a Premier League clash against Southampton.
Real Betis: The Seville club will travel to Spain’s east coast for a date with Villarreal in LaLiga (1:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+).
Bruno, Man United get over Anfield criticism to rout Betis