Martial earns Manchester United a draw in Bruges
Manager Solskjaer plumped for six changes against Club Brugge
A stylish Anthony Martial goal was not enough to give Manchester United three points in their final round of 32, first-leg game in Bruges, but it did give them the advantage ahead of next week’s return leg.
It also ended a United performance that was as terrible as the weather for the first 35 minutes, when Belgium’s top team threatened to inflict serious damage.
The heavy rain eased soon after kick-off, to the relief of the 1,600 travelling fans in their largely uncovered section, but the early pressure from Brugge did not.
Belgium-born Andreas Pereira tested former Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet after 14 minutes but the attack broke down after Mignolet cleared the resulting corner upfield.
Emmanuel Dennis, who had already scored twice against Real Madrid this season in the Champions League, lobbed the ball over Sergio Romero who was way off his line.
Mats Rits could have made it 2-0 almost immediately as United’s defence wobbled and their midfield was easily passed by Brugge, who looked every inch a side that had not lost in two months and who drew 2-2 at the Bernabeu.
The menacing Dennis shot from a tight angle with Romero saving after 28 minutes, but while United had more possession, they created little except mistakes.
With six changes from Monday’s win at Chelsea, Solskjaer’s men were dreadful.
Although it rained heavily when United last played in Bruges, matters appeared very different from that 2015 game when Louis van Gaal’s United won 7-1 on aggregate.
Van Gaal was present in Bruges to see that only Romero and Juan Mata survive from that side.
Then it changed in an instant. Martial took advantage of a mistake from Brandon Mechele and had the pace, strength and skill to hold off a challenge, scoring his 14th goal of the season with composure.
Brandon Williams blasted wide on 40 minutes, Odilon Kossounou ran towards the opposite goal and did the same a minute later, before Martial created another chance and struck from outside post for Mignolet to tip on to the woodwork.
United improved in a frenetic start to the second half which was end to end throughout, but Kossounou missed another big chance after Dennis again got the better of Harry Maguire.
Substitute Bruno Fernandes had a bright cameo but struggled with a late free kick, like so many of his teammates this season.
Brugge were playing their 11th European game of the season, with their finest result, the hard-fought draw in Madrid.
But Madrid also beat them 3-1 in Belgium, and they were hammered by Paris Saint-Germain, who put five past them and kept a clean sheet.
Their best performances have come away. They will need another if they are to qualify for the last 16 next Thursday, especially as United have won every home game in the competition so far.
Updated: February 21, 2020 12:37 AM