Europa League has been designed to allow sub-par European soccer teams to shine and sniff at the chance of securing a spot in the following seasons UEFA Champions League tournament. Manchester United don’t need to worry about qualification in the more prestigious of the two tournaments because they’ve already qualified through their finishing spot in the Premier League.
So, all that’s left for the Red Devil’s is to chase silverware and add to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s growing trophy cabinet. FC Copenhagen, on the other hand, seem to have already been written out of any chance at progressing to their first ever Europa League semi final appearance. Frankly, this is Copenhagen’s first ever quarter finals appearance. They are the first Danish side to make it this far in a major UEFA tournament since Brondby IF in 1996-97, so it’s easy to see why people are quick to write off the tie.
But this season has been different. The tides have undoubtedly shifted in the favor of lesser teams because of the impact of the Coronavirus hiatus. Knockout rounds in both major UEFA tournaments have shifted from two-legged fixtures to just one fixture that will be hosted at a neutral stadium. The mentality shifts in teams that, on paper, are inadequate compared to their opponents. Instead of 180 minutes of play to determine who goes to the next round, just 90 minutes are needed for such high-stakes knockout games.
Manchester United and FC Copenhagen have a very limited history, only playing each other twice back in the 2006-07 Champions League campaign. United won their first fixture at Old Trafford 3-0 while their away fixture ended in an upsetting 1-0 loss. For Copenhagen, that 1-0 victory remains their only ever victory against an English team, having played a total of 10 games against English opposition.
As the match kicked off, it was clear that Manchester United would have more of the games scoring chances, with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial getting involved early with the chance creation from Bruno Fernandes. But Copenhagen knew that they would have to make the most of any chances that fell in their way. The Danish side looked very threatening in front of goal early on, making for some hair raising moments inside United’s own penalty box. The Danes attacked as if they had nothing to lose.
United nearly had a breakthrough in the 20th minute when a penalty was given by the referee after a header by Harry Maguire placed the Copenhagen defense in a precarious position. It was then up to VAR, which determined an offside call on Maguire when the ball was crossed to him.
United seemed destined to allow the majority of their attacking chances develop from within the center of the field. Who would blame them when you have talent like Pogba and Fernandes in the midfield. The only issue that this may create for Manchester United is the possibility of Copenhagen breaking on the counter attack and finding players open on the wing. This was something United’s head coach would have to keep an eye on because of how the Danish team began the game.
But United had once again thought that they were responsible for the game’s opening goal from the 18-year old Mason Greenwood who finished his chance beautifully. The headed pass to Greenwood found the striker offside thanks to another VAR check in the first half. The game would head into half time at 0-0 thanks to great organization from the Copenhagen midfield and defense to go alongside Manchester United’s overall spotty play.
The second half once again saw Manchester United struggle to get a real threatening chance at goal. Possession was on the Red Devil’s side, but not much was made of it in the first 15 minutes of the second half. The only true chance at taking the lead came in the 57th minute when Mason Greenwood saw his shot ricochet off of the right post into the path of an offside Marcus Rashford.
Jonas WInd had Copenhagen’s first real effort at goal in the second half when the Danish side utilized a counter attack through the middle of the park. Sergio Romero was quick on his feet to collect the ball, but United almost immediately had a shot once again blast off of the post. This came just one minute after Copenhagen’s try, and it was Bruno Fernandes who saw his shot hit the left crossbar and find the opposition’s defense.
Pressure soon shifted onto the shoulders of Manchester United. Bryan Oviedo had arguably the game’s best chance thus far. Oviedo found himself in acres of space on the left attacking channel where the goalkeeper was beat and all that was in the way of Copenhagen taking the lead was a United players leg. The game had signs indicating that the last 25 minutes of regulation would be open-ended.
For a team of Manchester United’s quality, complacency and a touch of bad luck worked against them for the majority of the match. Once again, this is a testament to the new format implemented to the UEFA competitions due to the Coronavirus. These one game knockout round games have given a sense of life to lower-tier teams and it showed in the heart and determination that was on display of FC Copenhagen.
Missed chance after missed chance resulted in 30 minutes of extra time with the potential for a penalty shootout in the horizon for the under performing Manchester United. Anthony Martial missed two very good chances at goal in the first few minutes of extra time. VAR had another job to do early in the extra time as the referee called a foul in the penalty box when Martial (once again) went down from a tackle. VAR deemed the foul call to be correct and it was Bruno Fernandes who stepped up to the spot and continued his 100% efficiency for Manchester. This would be his 27th made penalty kick out of the 29 Bruno has taken in his career.
Martial was able to slice through the Danish defense like warm butter and find an open Juan Mata, who was subbed on at the start of extra time, only to see his attempt blocked by Copenhagen. It was then Rashford’s turn to attack the leaking defense, but although he missed a one-on-one thanks to quick goalkeeping, it was later ruled offside. United had ample opportunities to double their lead, but kept on blowing their chances. Adding on to their blunders, Victor Lindelof missed an open goal with a volley at the end of the first period of extra time. This was far from United’s best game.
Copenhagen had one last marauding attack built up as the 115th minute that had some of Copenhagen’s most meaningful possession in United’s defensive end. Unfortunately for the Danish side, they failed to register a goal. Manchester United would now be headed to their second semi finals in European competitions since the departure of legendary coach Sir Alex Fergusen. They will play the winner of the Wolves vs Sevilla match on Sunday, August 16th at 12 pm Pacific time.