Manchester United qualified for the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday evening with a 2-0 victory over Zorya Luhansk in Odessa. Henrikh Mkhitaryan opened his account by scoring the first goal of the match just after the restart, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring the second in the final minutes of the match after a great pass by Paul Pogba, a player who is criticised for doing nothing, despite running matches, maintaining possession with his superb passing and generally pulling the strings in midfield. Jose Mourinho will be happy that his side are into the knockout stages, leaving them to concentrate on the domestic competitions with United trying to better their Premier League position, also trying to retain the Emirates FA Cup and find a place in the final of the EFL Cup. United will find out who they will be drawn against on Monday, but they go through as an unseeded side, but will not face the likes of Tottenham Hotspur (fallen from the Champions League) or Fenerbahçe, who are both seeded.
The Armenian was written off by the media some months ago after being dropped and failing to get anything other than ‘the player needs to adapt to English football’ from Jose Mourinho. That meant that Henrikh Mkhitaryan had flopped at Manchester United and would be sold at a loss in the coming transfer window, or in the summer. Actually, it meant that, believe it or not, the player needed to adapt, something which he did and has continued to do since coming back into the team as a starter against Feyenoord three weeks ago. Mkhitaryan has been a player always included in the team since then, proving himself to his manager by assisting twice and scoring his first goal for his new club. Mkhitaryan was a bargain based on the fee he cost United, and will pay that back over the coming weeks, months and years, inspiring United on the way. What a player Mkhitaryan is. Arsenal and Liverpool both wanted him when United got him, funnily enough, those two teams did not want him, when it looked as if he had flopped, both sets of supporters mocked the player, now they will be in awe of the player they both wanted and cannot have.
It was good to see the Ivorian back in the starting XI for United, boy is he a player we have all missed. The defence has been run just as well with Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind running the show, though, but it was a bit thin on the ground with Chris Smalling also on the sidelines through injury. It was a shock to see Bailly on the bench against Everton, unused, though, and even more a shock to see him start against Zorya Luhansk. Bailly did well for the majority of the match, looked to have injured himself again, with what was deemed as a concussion, but he was fit to continue for the remainder of the match, getting some match fitness ahead of the visit of Tottenham Hotspur to Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon, where he will probably start again. Bailly was possibly lucky to not be sent off for his cynical challenge in the dying seconds of the match, but along with Ander Herrera, was booked. Bailly should be fine for the festive period of matches, but when January comes, United will lose his services once again with the Ivory Coast looking to retain their African Cup of Nations crown. United will have defensive cover, providing no new injuries happen between now and then, but the transfer window will be open too, so Mourinho could strengthen his side, should players the club are interested in, be available, of course.
The Swedish striker has been criticised by many Manchester United supporters this season, based on the fact he is 35 years old, scored 50 goals for Paris Saint-Germain last season and has not lived up to their expectations. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored his thirteenth goal of the season against Zorya Luhansk in Odessa on Thursday evening, a great achievement in less than twenty appearances so far this season. United needed a striker, they got one. Yes, Zlatan is not as clinical as he once was, but he has the class to make it work for United. He is grateful for the opportunity to play for United and for Jose Mourinho once again, and with some rest planned ahead for him, he could be kept fresh throughout the season. United needed a twenty goal a season striker last season, many wanted a striker capable of scoring that amount of goal, and that is exactly what has been provided this season. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a class act, a clinical striker. He misses chances, but so do other strikers in the world of football. Zlatan will achieve things at United, he is sure of that. the confidence he has shown thus far is refreshing and seems to have provided a level of expectation with the players, who have been down in the dumps for the last three years or so. Zlatan will prevail at United, and he will make sure United do, too.
Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera
Manchester United have a great midfield right now with Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba. Both players were the backbone of the side against the Ukrainian side. Pogba had a great game, assisting in Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal, but could have had a goal himself, had he been on target in the early stages of the match. Pogba is a player that will be criticised by many, as for the fee he cost United, some expect him to find a goal each match he plays, but he’s not that kind of player. Pogba is a midfielder, can be used defensively or on the attack, so he offers a lot more to his game. Herrera is a player who seems to have found his feet this season under Jose Mourinho. Herrera was literally pulling the strings against Zorya, showing his class and worth to the club. Herrera and Pogba added to Michael Carrick, will create such a great midfield trio, which has been seen a few times already this season. The future with Herrera and Pogba is going to be good at Manchester United.
Manchester United back in Europe
Manchester United now have something to smile about European football. Last season, United dropped out of the UEFA Champions League at this stage last year, falling into the Europa League and were drawn against FC Midtjylland, which resulted in a 2-1 defeat away from home. The return leg at Old Trafford ended in a 5-1 victory, putting United into the round of 16, where they faced Liverpool and promptly exited the competition. United have found themselves in the knockout stages of the competition, a way for them to get into the Champions League next season, as their league position is not likely to result in automatic qualification unless things change in the league, which will be a tough feat to reach.