Manchester United beat Zorya Luhansk 2-0 in the UEFA Europa League in Odessa on Thursday evening. Henrikh Mkhitaryan opened his account just after the start of the second half and a late strike by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, assisted by a stunning Paul Pogba pass, was all United need to ensure qualification into the next round of the secondary European competition. A place in the UEFA Champions League will be up for grabs for the winners of this tournament, with United needing to rely on that unless they better their league position in the coming weeks and months.
Jose Mourinho made six changes from the 1-1 draw against Everton at Goodison park at the weekend with Sergio Romero, Ashley Young, Eric Bailly, Daley Blind, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney all returning to the side. United started the match brightly on a cold night in Odessa. United maintained possession for the opening minutes of the match, getting forward on one occasion with Zlatan Ibrahimovic waiting in the box. The chance did not come to fruition for United, though. Bailly, back from injury looked like he had not missed a day through injury in the opening stages of the match.
Zorya had their first opportunity to go ahead in the match around the ten-minute mark with Romero saving the first attempt and the second hitting the side netting. United needed to try and close the game down as early as possible, not that they were not trying to do that from the start of the match. Inside the twelfth minute, United looked great on the ball, on the attack, but lofted passes were easily dispossessed with United not really having a credible chance on goal. In the 17th minute of the match, Paul Pogba has a stunning effort on goal, but it was not on target, he was unmarked for his attempt.
With half an hour gone in the match and it was still 0-0, with both sides vying to take the lead – neither having the chance needed to change the game. Fenerbahçe took the lead in Rotterdam with them topping the group as it stood with United taking second place. Should the Turkish side win in the Netherlands, United would be through – win, lose or draw. Pogba had another chance to put United ahead in the match, this time from outside of the box, but his effort was off target. Pogba’s passing is great, though, the best passer at the club by far. United may seem frustrated with the Ukrainian’s most of the time playing all of their players behind the ball, seldom attacking.
United had their best chance of the half in the 36th minute of the match through Juan Mata, but his was wide of the goal, at a tough angle and he hit the outside of the post. United were still very dominant in the match, just needing that pinpoint chance to change the game. Eric Bailly had a chance on goal, a spectacular acrobatic effort, but it did not trouble the Zorya goalkeeper. Wayne Rooney had multiple chances on goal, but nothing was troubling the home side. Henrikh Mkhitaryan had to do a spot of defending in the closing stages of the first half, doing what was needed of him. Marcos Rojo ended the half with a speculative effort, 0-0 at the break.
United started the second half brightly with Mkhitaryan getting his first Manchester United goal with a stunning solo strike after picking the ball up in the middle of the Zorya half of the pitch. What a first goal to score for the Armenian. Mkhitaryan only minutes later tried to get a second goal for his club, crossing into the box, but it did not reach a teammate or threaten the home side. Zlatan Ibrahimovic nearly put United 2-0 up in Odessa, but his strike stung the hands of the goalkeeper, who kept the effort out of the net. United still dominant and still looking to put this game to sleep.
Zorya had a few bright spells on the attack in the second half of the match, nothing pressuring United. On the 65th minute of the match, Jesse Lingard replaced Juan Mata. In the 70th minute, Jose Mourinho made his second substitution with Marouane Fellaini replacing Wayne Rooney. Eric Bailly was down receiving treatment after a challenge and it looked as though he would be replaced also. Bailly was back on the pitch after a few minutes. Zorya nearly found an equaliser in the 73rd minute, but United made the clearance. In the 75th minute, Fellaini had a header on goal, which was just wide of the target. United were still dominating in large spells.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah was the third substitute of the match, replacing Mkhitaryan, the scorer of the opening goal in the 84’3 minute. Ahead of that, Ander Herrera was booked for a challenge. After the change, Paul Pogba put a sublime ball through for Ibrahimovic just inside the Zorya half, with the Swede scoring his 13th goal of the season, his second against the Ukrainian side this season. United were 2-0 up, with minutes remaining and surely into the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League this season. United just needed to sit deep, maintain possession and wait for the final whistle. In the final moments of the match, Eric Bailly was booked for a challenge, which looked to be lucky as he reacted against the player after the challenge. The whistle was blown and United were through to the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League, just like last season when they were eliminated from the UEFA Champions League.
Goals: Henrikh Mkhitaryan 48′, Zlatan Ibrahimovic 88′
Assists: Paul Pogba 88′
Manchester United: Romero; Young, Bailly, Rojo, Blind, Herrera, Pogba; Mata (Lingard 65′), Rooney (Fellaini 70′), Mkhitaryan (Fosu-Mensah 84′); Ibrahimovic
Substitutes Not Used: De Gea; Jones; Martial, Rashford
Bookings: Ander Herrera 83′, Eric Bailly 90′