Blues win the yardstick for Europa glory

Manchester United's Ashley Young has called upon his team-mates to draw upon the manner of their impressive win over Chelsea in their Europa League quarter-final second leg home tie against Anderlecht.
Manchester United's Ashley Young has called upon his team-mates to draw upon the manner of their impressive win over Chelsea in their Europa League quarter-final second leg home tie against Anderlecht.PHOTO: REUTERS

United are eager to create history by adding the sole trophy missing from their cabinet

LONDON • Ashley Young feels that Manchester United's stunning victory over Chelsea last Sunday has set a benchmark ahead of their Europa League quarter-final second leg against Anderlecht today.

United revitalised their season and blew open the Premier League title race by sinking leaders Chelsea 2-0 in a tactical masterclass by manager Jose Mourinho.

Despite dominating last week's first leg against Anderlecht, United returned from Brussels with a 1-1 draw. But Young says he has no doubt about their ability to finish the job.

"We have felt that kind of performance coming," said the versatile England international, United's stand-in captain against Chelsea.

"There have been a lot of draws at home. I don't think a lot of people saw that scoreline coming or the type of game. We did.

"We have belief in ourselves. I have confidence in every single player in the squad. If we can play like we did against Chelsea, we can get through against Anderlecht and into the semi-finals."

United's win over Chelsea enhanced their chances of securing a top-four finish in the league, leaving them four points behind fourth-placed Manchester City with a game in hand.

But, whereas the path to top-tier European football via the league remains steep, should they overcome Anderlecht, United will be just three games from securing automatic Champions League qualification by winning the Europa League.

United are bidding to become only the fifth club - after Juventus, Ajax, Bayern Munich and Chelsea - to win all three of Europe's major cup competitions.

They lifted the European Cup in 1968, 1999 and 2008 and the now-defunct European Cup Winners' Cup in 1991, but have never previously gone beyond the last eight in the Europa League (formerly known as the Uefa Cup).

United are unbeaten in 16 European home games, and have won all three of their previous home games against Anderlecht, including a club-record 10-0 rout in September 1956.

Relegated to the bench against Chelsea, top-scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, midfielder Michael Carrick and forward Henrikh Mkhitaryan are all expected to return to United's starting XI against Anderlecht.

Mkhitaryan's 37th-minute strike at Constant Vanden Stock Stadium last week looked set to give United a precious away victory, only for Leander Dendoncker's header to draw Anderlecht level four minutes from time.

While Anderlecht's Swiss coach Rene Weiler acknowledged United's general superiority, he said Dendoncker's goal would give them belief for the trip to Old Trafford.

"It was difficult for us in the first half. Manchester United were really strong and very impressive," he said.

"We played better in the second half and higher up the pitch. We kept pushing because we knew we could equalise. That goal gives us extra motivation."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2017, with the headline 'Blues win the yardstick for Europa glory'. Print Edition | Subscribe