Manchester United took a big step towards the Europa League semi-finals with an away win over Granada in the first leg of their last-eight tie.
Marcus Rashford put United ahead when he superbly collected Victor Lindelof’s long pass and slid a finish past home goalkeeper Rui Silva.
Yangel Herrera, on loan from Manchester City, hit the outside of the post for the Spanish side and ex-Tottenham striker Roberto Soldado also fired wide.
United doubled their lead late on when Bruno Fernandes squeezed a penalty past Silva after Yan Brice fouled the Portuguese midfielder.
The second leg is at Old Trafford in a week’s time with the aggregate winners advancing to a semi-final against either Ajax or Roma, with the Italian side leading that tie 2-1 after the first leg in the Netherlands.
United have now only lost one of their past 17 matches in all competitions, but will be without midfielder Scott McTominay, left-back Luke Shaw and central defender Harry Maguire for the second leg as they will all be suspended after picking up bookings in Spain.
Professional United get the victory
United have not won a trophy since winning the Europa League four years ago, when Jose Mourinho’s side defeated Ajax. They have not reached a final in Solskjaer’s two and a half seasons in charge.
With United 14 points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City and out of the FA Cup after losing to Leicester last month, the Europa League is their only realistic hope of silverware this season.
And Solskjaer will be pleased with his side’s professional performance in southern Spain as they took control of their 27th European quarter-final.
Rashford, who had earlier curled a shot over, grabbed his 20th club goal of the season, with a superb first touch following Lindelof’s long pass from inside his own half, with the England international then running through and slotting past Silva.
David de Gea, back in goal after Dean Henderson had featured in the past seven games, maintained United’s lead with a save to deny Kenedy.
United looked to kill off the tie against a side who are ninth in La Liga and have the worst defensive record in the Spanish top flight, but captain Maguire dragged a shot well wide, with Paul Pogba also wasting an opportunity.
Fernandes had a shot from the corner of the six-yard box saved, but then doubled United’s advantage in the last minute with a penalty that Silva should have saved but the ball squirmed under his body.
Shaw was replaced by Alex Telles for the start of the second half but Solskjaer played down any injury fears for the England left-back and said: “I had to protect Luke but I think and hope he should be ready for the weekend.”
Granada’s dream story coming to an end?
Granada’s run to the last eight in their first season in European competition has been a great story. Their whole team only cost 8m euros and the side were in the Spanish fourth tier 15 seasons ago.
Sadly, the fans were not able to enter the stadium for what was arguably the biggest match in the club’s 90-year history, although that did not stop a large number of passionate supporters gathering outside for the arrival of the team buses.
Granada came seventh in La Liga in 2019-20 and had to battle through three qualifying rounds, then the group phase and then two-legged ties against Italy’s Napoli and Solskjaer’s former team Molde to reach the quarter-finals.
After falling behind, they had chances to equalise but Herrera, Soldado and Kenedy could not take them as they suffered their fourth successive defeat in all competitions.
The match at Old Trafford next week will be their 15th of the season in the Europa League, and if they fail to win by at least a two-goal margin then it will also be their last.
‘Very happy with the result’ – what they said
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told BT Sport: “It’s not a perfect night – we got three yellow cards and suspensions but a 2-0 result is very good. We know how difficult it is to come to Spain to get a result like this and I’m very happy with the result.
“Marcus and Bruno have been exceptional for us and are so important. The first goal was a very good run from Marcus, he took the ball fantastically and a good finish, and Bruno is so good on penalties.
“We want to win every game of football. It’s still a young, learning team and we have to improve all the time. It catches you so quickly if you rest and we can’t have any other approach other than to go forward and try to score goals [in the second leg].”