Man United relieved by Anderlecht draw but can't take Europa lightly
Manchester United fans were relieved on Friday to learn that they had avoided the toughest team left in the Europa League, Lyon, in the quarterfinals of the competition.
United's next opponents, Anderlecht, are currently top of the Belgian Jupiler League but haven't shone in Europe so far this season. In the group stages, they lost one match and drew the other against St Etienne, a side United beat 4-0 on aggregate in the knockout round.
You can't judge a team solely by the results they've achieved, as FC Rostov proved in the round of 16. The Russian Premier League side beat the likes of Bayern Munich and Ajax earlier this season, but posed little threat to United over the two legs. Therefore, it would be unfair to rule Anderlecht out purely because of how they fared against St Etienne.
It is, however, probably worth noting that Anderlecht had an easy draw in the last round, facing Cypriot champions APOEL, yet managed only 1-0 victories in both legs.
However, Anderlecht have generally had no problems scoring goals thanks to Poland striker Lukasz Teodorczyk, who is on loan this campaign from Dynamo Kyiv. He has bagged an impressive 28 goals in 40 appearances for Anderlecht this season. They also have Youri Tielemans, a teenage product of the club's youth team, who has scored 17 goals in all competitions.
So you would imagine Anderlecht may get on the score sheet when they face United, although it's unlikely they will be able to compete with the score line United boasted when the two teams first met. The Belgian outfit were United's very first European opponents back in 1956 and were defeated 10-0 at Old Trafford by Sir Matt Busby's men.
This time, United will travel to Belgium for the first leg on April 13, which will give them a clearer idea of what is needed in the second match. Jose Mourinho will probably be less than impressed that this fixture falls days before another game against his former club Chelsea on April 16, which also occurred in the last round.
But it could have been worse for United, with Besiktas still in the pot. A journey to Belgium certainly beats travelling to Turkey. Competition rivals Lyon were the unfortunate ones with that draw, which may well be something to cheer Mourinho up.
A few months ago, it is likely the manager believed United's qualification for the Champions League would have been more secure by now. While finishing in the top four of the Premier League is still a possibility, it will require United to get some big results against the teams above them in the table.
For that reason, Mourinho has to take the Europa League seriously. He can't afford to miss out on Europe's elite competition and subject United to another season of Europa League play.
Looking at the teams still in it, this route may be simpler than finishing in the top four. Anderlecht shouldn't be pushovers, but if United can't get the job done over two legs against a side of this calibre, they have no right to feature in the Champions League regardless.
Scott is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.