Manchester United have pulled it off.
After a largely disappointing domestic season, Red Devils have won a major European trophy and earned their place in the Champions League final after dispatching Dutch Ajax 2-0 in the Europa League final in Stockholm.
Paul Pogba’s deflection got Red Devils in front after 18 minutes of play and went on to put more pressure on Ajax whose on-pitch domination turned completely futile and sour three minutes after the second-half kick-off. Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s acrobatic goal from inside the box sealed the match completely as Manchester United used their experience to wrap it up nicely and lift the trophy in the end.
Here are the five things we learned tonight:
United Save Season with Europa League Triumph
Community Shield and League Cup weren’t remotely enough for Manchester United’s season to be deemed successful after a sixth-place Premier League finish.
Despite the summer of heavy investments, Manchester United have been largely underwhelming throughout the 2016/17 season and their Europa League success comes as a timely reward and an important push in the back ahead of what is likely to be a key season for Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford. Europa League title brings another major trophy to the cabinet, but more importantly it guarantees a place in the Champions League group stage next year. It is where a club such as Manchester United want to be and a place they belong honestly as a global football force. The pressure increases as Red Devils prepare for what is likely to be another high-spending summer. Possible arrival of Antoine Griezmann would provide Manchester United with an important edge up front and it will be extremely exciting to see what the future holds for Mourinho’s men next term.
Inexperience Caught Up With Dazzling Ajax
Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam have had a brilliant season in Europa League. A team which averages 22.7 years of age and builds its play around teenage boys such as Matthijs de Ligt (17), Justin Kluivert (18), Kasper Dolberg (19) and Davinson Sanchez (20) deserves utter respect and credit.
Ajax’s attack-oriented, high-scoring team dazzled throughout the competition with their burning desire and beautifully skilled football, but the lack of experience at an international scene caught up on them in the final. Ajax attempted to impose their recognizable style of play, but Manchester United stopped them in their tracks by lifting brick wall in front of Romero’s goal. In the end, what promised to be an exciting season for Ajax turned to be a disappointing campaign with Dutch heavyweights missing out on domestic league and European glory as well.
Pogba Delivers When It Matters Most, but Fellaini Steals Headlines
World’s most expensive player has been receiving plenty of stick for his Manchester United performances this season.
Some of the criticism has been well-justified, but the whopping price tag stuck on Pogba’s back would have him under scrutiny regardless of his performances. And even though his overall involvement in the first season back in Manchester United shirt has been underwhelming, Paul Pogba stepped up to the plate when it mattered most. The United midfielder opened the match fully motivated and determined, pushing it strong in the centre of the pitch, disrupting the Ajax’s play and menacing the rivals in the final third. His goal came as a just reward, albeit a deflection and Manchester United fans should be optimistic about Pogba’s next season.
And what to say about Marouane Fellaini’s performance? Even more criticised than Pogba this season, the Belgian put in an close-to-perfect performance for Manchester United. Fellaini was superb in the midfield, cutting Ajax’s attacks early and pushing forward whenever given chance. Man of the match without much doubt.
Mourinho’s Tactics Frustrating but Effective
Those who thought it was Jose Mourinho’s way of preserving his players and keeping them fresh during a congested schedule were perhaps wrong, as it seemed that Manchester United have turned into a counter-attacking side rather than a dominant one who wants to hold control over proceedings at all times.
What Red Devils did on the big night in Stockholm is that they frustrated Ajax and beat them on experience and tenaciousness. But labeling Manchester United a defensive side would still be wrong. Having kept Ajax at mere one shot on goal for the entire 45 minutes, Mourinho’s men scored a timely first-half goal, decided to sit back and wait Ajax to tire themselves before striking them with a final blow. The second half saw a completely different Manchester United, proving that Jose Mourinho is not entirely a defensive coach but an experienced tactician who makes timely decisions that work for his team.
Sergio Romero Deserves a Mention
The 30-year-old Argentina international goalkeeper has spent most of his time at Manchester United dwelling in David De Gea’s shadow, but the current season saw former Racing Club, AZ, Sampdoria and AS Monaco shot stopper prove his worth.
Romero hardly put a foot wrong each time he called into action by Jose Mourinho and completely deserves all the praise he is currently receiving. The only odd name in Mourinho’s line-up for the Europa League final within a group of first-team choices, Sergio Romero was regarded for his hard work and dedication in Stockholm. He promised to repay Jose’ Morinho’s faith in his ability and that’s exactly what he did on the big night by keeping a clean sheet and putting in a composed display in goal.
AJAX: Onana 6 – Veltman 6.5, Sanchez 7, Ligt 6.5, Riedewald 6 (de Jong 6) – Klassen 6, Schone 6.5 (van de Beek 6), Ziyech 6.5 – Dolberg 5.5 (Neres 6), Traore 7, Younes 7.
Unused subs: Boer, Kluivert, Tete, Westermann.
MANCHESTER UNITED: Romero 6.5 – Valencia 7.5, Smalling 7.5, Blind 7.5, Darmian 7.5 – Herrera 7.5, Pogba 8 – Mata 6.5 (Rooney 6), Fellaini 8.5, Mkhitaryan 7 (Lingard 6.5) – Rashford 6.5 (Martial 6).
Unused subs: Carrick, de Gea, Fosu-Mensah, Jones.
REFEREE: Damir Skomina
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