Away goal in cold Bruges warms Solskjaer's heart

Manchester United are in the driver's seat of their Europa League last-32 tie after Anthony Martial (far left) equalised in the 1-1 draw with Club Brugge on Thursday. The second leg will be played at Old Trafford next week.
Manchester United are in the driver's seat of their Europa League last-32 tie after Anthony Martial (far left) equalised in the 1-1 draw with Club Brugge on Thursday. The second leg will be played at Old Trafford next week.PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUGES • Manchester United stuttered throughout the tepid 1-1 draw yet still remain favourites to reach the last 16 of the Europa League when they face Club Brugge in next week's return leg.

Rain and snow lashed the Jan Breydel Stadium on Thursday night and the dreary conditions were reflected in the action.

United were dismal until the last 10 minutes of the first half and by then, Brugge had drawn first blood, with Emmanuel Dennis lobbing a stranded Sergio Romero from long range.

Anthony Martial hauled the visitors level before half-time with an excellent run-and-finish after pouncing on a defensive lapse from Brandon Mechele.

He could have had a second but was unlucky to see his strike rebound off Simon Mignolet's post, but no real upturn occurred after the break despite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer throwing Odion Ighalo, Fred and Bruno Fernandes into the fray.

Afterwards, the United manager conceded it was "not one of the best games anyone has seen" but was confident of putting away the Belgian champions at Old Trafford.

"It was a difficult game against a well-organised team, under difficult conditions," he said. "It was a bit sloppy in terms of concentration, but conditions with the pitch and ball makes it hard.

"We got an away goal, we got a draw and we're at home next week. Hopefully, we can finish the job."

In Piraeus, it was an equally tight and drab affair, with Arsenal taking until the 81st minute to break the deadlock for a 1-0 victory over Greek outfit Olympiakos.

Academy product Bukayo Saka provided the cross for Alexandre Lacazette to tuck home the winner and in the process, earning praise from manager Mikel Arteta for his breakthrough season.

The 18-year-old winger has now provided nine assists - three more than any other Arsenal player - despite mostly playing in an unfamiliar left-back role.

Arteta told BT Sport: "He's not a full-back, but he's responding really well in the right way, he's got a lot of courage.

"He made good positions in final third and most of the chances came from his side. I'm very pleased with his performance."

While his contract situation remains in the air - his deal ends next summer and United and Liverpool are believed to be closely monitoring the youngster - teammate Bernd Leno feels there is no better place for him to develop his game.

The Germany goalkeeper said: "Bukayo is an outstanding player, hopefully, he stays very long at Arsenal. We're happy now we've got the advantage and the away goal... We want to go through to the next round."

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2020, with the headline 'Away goal in cold Bruges warms Solskjaer's heart'. Print Edition | Subscribe