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Marouane Fellaini netted in stoppage time to earn Manchester United a 1-0 victory over Young Boys at Old Trafford on Tuesday and booked them a spot in the last 16 of the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League.
It was a much-needed result for the Red Devils after their 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Saturday and continued their positive run in Europe.
The Group H encounter looked to be petering out to another goalless draw for United. But Romelu Lukaku‘s flick-on from Luke Shaw’s long ball found Fellaini in the box, and the Belgian finished in the bottom corner to the delight of Jose Mourinho and the home crowd.
Rashford Deserves No. 9 Spot Long Term Despite Misses
Marcus Rashford endured another frustrating evening at Old Trafford as he missed numerous chances playing in the No. 9 role.
He had a fantastic opportunity to open the scoring early on when he was put beyond the defence by a long ball from Shaw, but he could only lift his effort over the bar. It was the first of many spurned chances.
But with Romelu Lukaku currently enduring a miserable barren spell, and Alexis Sanchez out of form, the Englishman deserves more game time in the central striker’s role.
Unlike Lukaku of late, Rashford does at least get into good positions and stretches opposition defences when playing through the middle:
Samuel Luckhurst @samuelluckhurst
Rashford in a microcosm, this half. Bright, good movement, trying but falling short. You can’t pin the decision-making on Mourinho. Though some will doubtless try to. #mufc
The 21-year-old needs to improve his finishing, but he cannot do that if he is not given the opportunity.
Rashford also needs his confidence boosting, and Mourinho can do just that by keeping faith in him in the No. 9 role.
If Lukaku were playing well and scoring goals there would be no sense in replacing him with Rahsford.
But United have been so poor going forward this season Mourinho has little to lose in changing things up.
And Rashford playing in the middle of a front three between Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard has the potential for excitement.
Fred, Not Fellaini, is Future of United’s Midfield
The Old Trafford faithful were finally treated to some excitement in the dying moments when Fellaini made a crucial late contribution for the second successive Champions League match:
B/R Football @brfootball
When United needed a hero, there was only one man for the job 😂 https://t.co/CCjwUPxjb4
As is so often the case when United are looking for a goal near the end of a match, Fellaini made a nuisance of himself in the area and came out on top.
It was a fine turn and finish from the former Everton man, with just a hint of handball in the control.
But Mourinho cannot continue to rely on Fellaini, especially not in the midfield.
After United’s insipid display at the weekend against Palace, the Portuguese manager opted to make significant changes to his starting XI:
Rob Dawson @RobDawsonESPN
After accusing players of lacking heart against Palace, Mourinho has made six changes tonight. Shaw, Valencia, Jones, Fellaini, Fred and Rashford all in. Pogba on the bench. Sanchez not in the squad.
Up until the dying moments, Fellaini was more of a passenger than anything, and it was Fred who made the biggest impact before being taken off just after the hour.
The Brazilian has been given very little game time this season despite United paying £52 million for him in the summer.
But he showed against Young Boys that he could be a huge asset:
Statman Dave @StatmanDave
Fred’s game by numbers vs. Young Boys:
89% pass accuracy
62 forward passes
23 final third passes
2 chances created
1 tackle won
A strong return. 🇧🇷🔥 https://t.co/Qis6Dy9wat
He is combative, good on the ball and actually tries to propel United forward with his passing, movement and drive.
Mourinho’s Fellaini ploy may have worked again on Tuesday, but it is not a long term strategy.
If United are going to actually build a team for the future who are capable of winning major silverware, Fred needs to be a part of it.
United visit Southampton in the Premier League on Saturday, a fine chance to get back to winning ways in the English top flight against a side winless in their last nine league matches.
Young Boys, meanwhile, are back in action in the Swiss Super League as they take on second-placed Basel on Sunday.