Manchester United have finally taken the opportunity and climbed the ladder from seventh to the fifth spot, leaving their customary position of sixth for Arsenal to occupy. It was not a pretty game of football but what could one have expected of a team who had played another high-pressure game only 48 hours back. United started the game pretty slowly with Middlesbrough posing all the threats. They came back in to the game slowly but surely and took the lead with the help of unlikeliest of the duo, Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young. Young, in spite of putting in a shift, has come under some criticism for not putting in decent crosses but that was not the case today. It was a pinpoint cross which Fellaini headed near the far post giving United the much-needed momentum. While talking post game Fellaini acknowledged Young for his cross along with the late pressure that let Middlesbrough back in the game.
“It was a great ball from Ash and I tried to finish well. It was a good goal. It was tough in the end. They pushed, they played long balls, their physical presence. We dealt with it. We had a lot of defenders today. So we did well.”
The next goal took some time to come but it was one of those blinders from Jesse Lingard. Lingard has got a knack of missing out on easier opportunities but never the worldies like the one today. A fantastic strike from him meant United were in the driver’s seat and just needed to see out the last 30 minutes, which eventually turned out to be menacing. United did not have a lot of great performances today but Marcus Rashford and Lingard both did well throughout the game, putting in a great shift and running behind the defenders. Lingard, too, was happy about the way both combined together up top.
“We had a lot of pace up front with me, Marcus and Antonio. But we had the ball-players in midfield to dictate the game, so it was an all-round good game. As I was looking for the pass there weren’t many options open so I took it on myself, and luckily it went in. Marcus has put a shift in for the team today. He was a nuisance up front, and it was good playing with him.”
One thing which was pretty evident from the look of things was, these United players are fatigued and were clearly struggling past the one hour mark. It also coincided with the second goal after which the players got pushed too deep defensively leading to the opposition goal. Mourinho spoke about the situation and today’s overall performance post the game. He was impressed by the attitude and will of his players.
“What was good? The attitude. The desire. And our way of thinking. We don’t have A, B, C, D, E, F, G, but we have L, M, N, S, O, P. We started the game really well, Valdes made three fantastic saves before our first goal.”
He also spoke about how the second goal and extra defender did not help stop Middlesbrough taking a goal back.
“We controlled everything until our second goal and then they changed the game, they start putting long balls in the box, we decided to play with an extra defender but with the mistake of letting them push too much into our box. Then there was a fighting 15 minutes when they didn’t have chances but the game was alive until the last second.”
But overall, it was a fighting and rewarding performance which have helped United to keep the top four hopes still alive, along with being very much in the fight for their first Europa League trophy.
“It’s fantastic because we managed in the same week to go to the quarter-final of the Europa League which was an important target for us, and we got these three points. So we still have two doors open to play Champions League football for next season.”
Mourinho, however, reiterated how his team and tactics were marred by the unavailability of players due to various reasons and how the team did excellently given the circumstances.
“It was too much for us: injured players, tired players, suspended players. These guys today they were magnificent.”
Mourinho went on to appreciate his team’s response further when he spoke to MUTV, calling their reaction “magnificent” and also “expected”
"The answer was magnificent."
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) March 19, 2017
But there were still some concerns over the knock that Lingard took, but Mourinho clarified that it might not be too serious.
“I think maybe something in his ankle but nothing serious.”
A lot of the United players will now travel for international duties so rest is not a given but Mourinho and his backup staff will welcome the international break wholeheartedly. It has been some very exhausting days for the Reds over the past few weeks and hopefully, the players will be refreshed and raring to go when they are back. United will now play on the 1st of April against West Bromwich Albion and will want to be up for the challenge to keep their upward journey going. With a new occupant of the sixth spot in the table, United need to be motivated and ready to not end up back there.