The night began with torrential rain and ended in a hailstorm. That’s the weather report and probably the most interesting aspect of a rather brutal night in Bruges.
This was another of those uninspiring occasions under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer when you wonder just where Manchester United are heading under the Norwegian.
Three days after an encouraging win at Chelsea, this had a very different feel. Only the scoreline felt positive.
Manchester United survived an early scare to secure a 1-1 draw with Club Brugge in the Europa League Round of 32 first leg
Anthony Martial capitalised on a loose ball at the back to level the scores and bring United back into the knockout tie
The Frenchman’s first-half strike made it goals in two consecutive games after his fine headed effort against Chelsea
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
CLUB BRUGGE (3-5-2): Mignolet 6.5; C Mata 6, Mechele 6, Deli 6.5; Kossounou 6, Rits 7, Vanaken 6, Balanta 5.5 (Vormer 47), De Cuyper 6 (Schrijvers 73, 6); Dennis 8, Tau 6 (De Ketelaere 63, 6). Subs: Horvath, Okereke, Mitrovic, Ricca.
Scorer: Dennis 15
Booked: Balanta, Vanaken
MAN UTD (3-4-3): Romero 5; Maguire 6.5, Lindelof 6, Shaw 6.5; Dalot 6 (Fernandes 81), Pereira 4.5 (Fred 70, 6), Matic 6, Williams 5; Mata 6.5, Martial 6.5 (Ighalo 68), Lingard 5. Subs: De Gea, Bailly, Fred, James, Wan-Bissaka.
Scorer: Martial 36
Referee: Aleksei Kulbakov (Belarus) 6
Yes, Solskjaer made six changes from Stamford Bridge and, yes, United must now be favourites to progress to the last 16 at Old Trafford next week.
But these drab away days in the Europa League have become all too common. Their fans have seen little in the way of inspiration in Alkmaar, Belgrade and Astana on Thursday nights this season, and this followed the trend.
Club Brugge had the best of the first half and the best player throughout in Emmanuel Dennis who put the Belgian League leaders in front and gave United’s defence a right runaround at the Jan Breydelstadion.
When United sent on Odion Ighalo towards the end for his second appearance, it was tempting to think United would have been better off signing his younger Nigerian compatriot in the January transfer window than a 30-year-old who has spent the last three seasons in China.
Solskjaer decided against resting Anthony Martial and giving Oghalo a full debut, and he was rewarded when the Frenchman scored for the second game in a row to cancel out Dennis’s strike.
But even the United manager struggled to raise too much enthusiasm from such a dour contest.
‘I don’t think it was one of the best games,’ admitted Solskjaer, who believed that a lighter ball in this competition contributed to the poor spectacle.
‘It was a difficult game against a well-organised team in difficult conditions. The conditions weren’t nice.
‘But we got an away goal and got a draw. We’re at home next week and hopefully we can finish the job.’
Brugge took a surprise early lead after Emmanuel Dennis pounced on a long ball and lofted over Sergio Romero
The referee denies United’s claims of foul play with the visitors contending the ball had been rolling in the build up to the goal
Simon Mignolet celebrates after the former Liverpool goalkeeper played his part in the opening goal of the game on Thursday
Club Brugge boss Philippe Clement preferred to focus on an incident in the opening two minutes when United goalkeeper Sergio Romero challenged Dennis inside the box.
Clement thought it was a two-footed challenge deserving of a penalty and a red card but referee Aleksei Kulbakov, of Belarus, didn’t agree.
‘For me, it’s a clear penalty,’ said Clement. ‘In some countries it’s a red card, I don’t know how you see it in England. If you go with two feet against the leg of somebody, it’s a red card.
‘For a team like Brugge to beat Manchester United, you need circumstances to go your way, and it didn’t go our way.’
Dennis and strike partner Percy Tau caused United’s back five a plethora of problems in the opening stages of the game
Victor Lindelof looks to keep the ball away from Emmanuel Dennis of Club Brugge during a back and forth contest in Belgium
As it was, another rash decision by Romero presented Brugge with an opportunity to go ahead in the 15th minute.
Clement had set his team up to hit United on the break but even he couldn’t have hoped it worked so clinically – and simplistically.
A United attack broke down and former Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet launched a big kick upfield. It landed on halfway with Dennis in pursuit alongside Brandon Williams and Diogo Dalot.
The crucial run was made by Romero, however. The United goalkeeper raced off his line with no chance of reaching the ball and was in no man’s land when Dennis got ahead of Williams to lob him into an empty net.
Solskjaer utilised a back five with Luke Shaw deployed in the central three for the Red Devils for the Round of 32 first leg
Andreas Pereira of Manchester United looked to curl an effort beyond Mignolet midway through the second half
At that stage, United had offered very little. Where was the game plan? Frankly, they were all over the place and it was apt that an equaliser out of the blue in the 36th minute came on the back of two mistakes.
First of all, Harry Maguire carried the ball out of defence and dithered before playing a five-yard pass into touch instead of to Victor Lindelof on his right.
Maxim De Cuyper aimed the throw-in towards Brandon Mechele who tried to let the ball bounce across him but gave Martial the chance to steal it off him.
United’s No.9 was away. Martial had been virtually anonymous until then but he bore down on goal and buried his shot past the advancing Mignolet.
‘Two strange goals,’ said Solskjaer. ‘Their throw-in and long kick straight through the middle. There was a lack of concentration from both teams.’
United new boy Odion Ighalo was named on the bench for the tie in Bruges as United named a weakened first eleven
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer rung the changes, making six changes to the side that beat Chelsea in the Premier League on Monday
If the home side felt aggrieved that they were not still in front at the end of a first half, it was almost a whole lot worse as Martial sent a 20-yard shot thumping against the post just before the interval.
You felt like Brugge needed a lead to take to Old Trafford and they so nearly got it 10 minutes from time when Dennis again teased United’s defence and pulled the ball back towards the penalty spot.
Substitute Siebe Schrijvers stepped over it and suddenly teenager Odilon Kossounou was unmarked in front of goal. However, the moment got the better of the youngster as he guided his shot wide of Romero’s right-hand post. The chance was gone and quite possibly Brugge’s hopes in Europe as well.
Solskjaer sent on Bruno Fernandes and both his new signing and Juan Mata had chances to score from freekicks on the edge of the box in the dying minutes. Both attempts were aimed harmlessly into the Brugge wall. It was that kind of night.