With a place in the semi finals up for grabs, Anderlecht and Genk had to show passion, courage and energy to overcome their opponents. Both definitely needing a goal, that would be enough if they could defend. I’m somebody who’d rather go down fighting, and with both easing their way towards a title and a domestic Europa League play off respectively, without embarrassing themselves, if they do show will and determination, could they prove doubters and progress to the semi finals?
Let’s kick off with Anderlecht, who I’m sure would’ve expected a fast start from their hosts, hoping they may reduce United to long shots and frustrate….That lasted all of 10 minutes when the familiar face from the first leg, Henrik Mkhitaryan, popped up to take an early 1-0 lead. Man Utd would’ve loved that. Easing themselves into the match and following on from their weekend momentum. As the first half wore on Anderlecht were finding their way and could’ve drawn level a couple of times, until skipper Sofiane Hanni did just that after the half hour. Les Mauves have been written off massively in England and yet again they proved they are capable of matching anyone if they ride their luck, play their football and take their chances.
In an evenly contested first half on chances, Les Mauves would love another opportunity. Another goal would mean 2 would be needed for the Red Devils. As the second half wore on, Anderlecht were growing in confidence matching Manchester United fantastically well. The Pro League league leaders were only missing that vital goal, but still were defensively strong not to throw away their chances altogether!
Simultaneously, Genk, who have been outstanding recently welcomed Celta Vigo to the Luminus Arena. After a goal deficit from the first leg, Genk needed all their firepower bringing back some familiar faces themselves to the starting eleven. The first half however didn’t have much to shout about. Very cagey with both sides cancelling each other out, it was perfect for the Spaniards, knowing a clean sheet was all that was needed, or even just a draw for that matter. The only worry is that De Smurfen don’t get too nervous that they don’t create more than preserving their own clean sheet. There’s no point going out with a whimper!
As the second half wore on however, Celta were hoping to take the game into their own hands, meaning Genk would have to get a goal quick. Unfortunately, Pione Sisto struck again, much like Mkhitaryan in the Anderlecht game, scoring in both legs. The problem is his goal could be more critical than the Armenian’s. A swift reply was needed, and thankfully, Sisto must’ve woken Genk as the Belgian’s took just 4 minutes to get right back into the tie! Leandro Trossard with a strike that levelled the match on the night and would hopefully swing the pendulum in Genk’s favour.
As time ticked on in both matches, nothing changed with the scoreline. Anderlecht were doing so well leading up to extra time knowing a break away or a set piece would mean the tie. Genk on the other hand were slowly drifting towards elimination, where their valiant effort in the competition was coming to an end. With the last final few minutes could either take the game by the scruff of the neck and represent Belgium further into the competition?
Unfortunately on one side of the coin, Genk couldn’t progress. Celta did what they needed to do on the night and without for the want of trying, Genk fought, just not hard enough on the night, knowing that their domestic form is their best route into Europe for sure next season.
Les Mauves however went into extra time. Magnificent effort from themselves hoping that if the luck was with them anything could happen in that final half an hour or even from the penalty spot eventually! But with the first half over in a flash, whatever Mourinho said worked at the break in extra time, as Marcus Rashford made Anderlecht heart’s sink with a 107th minute goal. Still time of course, but much like Genk, it was a race against the clock to see if they could steal an equaliser. The only problem was that United look closer to extending their lead rather than losing their place in the competition.
All you can say is that Anderlecht were brilliant. They matched Manchester United in both ties in that the English giants couldn’t breakdown their Belgian counterparts. Needing extra time, Les Mauves should go on domestically and control the league personally and in some way, the performance in both legs is something of a positive, knowing they were superb frankly going as far as they did.
You could say congratulations and commiserations to both Genk and Anderlecht!