Real Betis 0-1 Man Utd (Rashford 55′) – Man Utd advance 5-1 on aggregate
This season feels long. Somehow, it is just four months since Alejandro Garnacho was asking Cristiano Ronaldo for permission to use his celebration as the promising youngster shared the pitch with his idol during the Europa League group stages.
Fast forward to March, and with one in Saudi Arabia, the other receiving treatment in the physio room, and Antony ill, another attacking prospect had the chance to prove their worth for Erik ten Hag and Manchester United. Facundo Pellistri, who – having already started for Uruguay at a World Cup – was handed his full debut 893 days after joining the club.
Six substitute appearances down in 2023, totalling 102 minutes across four competitions, Pellistri’s first start came after an impressive cameo in the first leg against Real Betis, a 4-1 win which all-but sealed United’s place in the quarter-finals.
“He deserves his chance,” ex-United midfielder Paul Scholes said on BT Sport before kick-off. “He’ll be a different player from Antony. He’s not as tricky, as fancy, not one to cut inside. Very much an old-fashioned winger. Real pace, going down the outside and getting crosses in. He’s that type of player.
“He’s got a big chance tonight. A big test, a tough away game, but it’s a fantastic opportunity. If he could have a good hour he’ll stake a claim for the next few weeks.”
Starting on the wide right, the 21-year-old Uruguayan looked to make an impact right away. Within 15 seconds he was making darting runs, but an overcooked cross ended hopes of an early goal that almost certainly would have killed the tie.
As Betis pushed and probed down the one end, with Joaquin hitting the post after Juanmi’s shot trickled wide, Pellistri briefly switched wings with Marcus Rashford, but that experiment was short-lived as the pair soon swapped back.
Pellistri continued to show intent, though, always looking to beat his man, and while these attempts did not always pay off, it did not deter him from getting heavily involved.
After picking up a harsh yellow card, somehow getting a booking for comfortably winning the ball first, he then hit the post just before half-time, striking his effort down into the ground before it just evaded Wout Weghorst, who looked to turn in the rebound.
“He’s been a handful,” said Hargreaves of Pellistri, as Scholes bemoaned United’s lack of composure during the half-time break.
Man Utd player ratings
Starting XI: De Gea 6, Malacia 6, Martinez 6, Maguire 5, Wan-Bissaka 7, Fred 6, Casemiro 7, Rashford 7, Fernandes 7, Pellistri 7, Weghorst 5.
Subs: Sancho 6, Sabitzer 6, Elanga 6, Dalot 6, Lindelof 6.
Come the second half, Pellistri skipped past Juanmi to help create an opportunity for Rashford, whose shot was well saved as the score remained goalless.
It was proof that Pellistri had warmed to the task. His early endeavour, which had led to some mistakes, was replaced by a calmer display, one helped by the experience around him and made even more comfortable when Rashford fired in a terrific opener – his sixth goal in eight matches.
Pellistri had played a part in that goal, too, albeit a minor one before Casemiro smartly switched play, and with a 5-1 aggregate lead that allowed Ten Hag to switch his focus to the FA Cup quarter-final against Fulham on Sunday.
On came Jadon Sancho for Rashford, Marcel Sabitzer for Fred, and with the home hope distinguished, the sting was taken out of the tie as United comfortably marched on.
A routine night for United, it may not have been had Juanmi converted his chance, and an impressive display from Pellistri, who played the entire 90 minutes, created an opening for the narrowly-offside Sancho, and overall showed promising signs that United have another attacking outlet that is more than just one for the future.