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What We Learned: Mkhitaryan is a beast; Herrera and Pogba make a great midfield

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.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan

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.

Eric Bailly

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.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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.

Report: Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimovic send United through in Odessa

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′

CONFIRMED: Rooney, Mkhitaryan, and Mata start against Zorya

Manchester United face Zorya Luhansk in their final UEFA Europa League match of the season knowing that a draw will see them through into the knockout stages of the competition. United have fared well in the cup competitions this season, faltering in the league. United need to start playing like a team that have not given up, in all competitions, starting tonight. A victory will give the club some breathing space, knowing that only domestic football will happen for the foreseeable future with the Europa League not starting again until February. United will entertain Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Sunday, knowing that anything less than a win will unleash a barrage of criticism, which I think is why Jose Mourinho left Michael Carrick, Antonio Valencia, and Matteo Darmian in Manchester, giving him a decent start in the match with players not having to travel to the Ukraine. United should have this match in the bag well before the final 20 minutes of the match, if not, they are playing with the clubs only hope of securing UEFA Champions League football next season. Here are the starting XI and list of substitutes for both teams this evening:

Manchester United:

Romero:

Young, Bailly, Rojo, Blind;

Herrera, Pogba;

Mata, Rooney, Mkhitaryan;

Ibrahimovic

Substitutes:

De Gea; Jones, Fosu-Mensah; Lingard, Fellaini; Martial, Rashford

Zorya Luhansk:

Levchenko;

Opanasenko, Sivakov, Forster, Sukhitsky;

Karavayev, Kharatin, Chaykovskiy, Petryak;

Ljubenovic, Bezborodko

Substitutes:

Shevckenho, Kulach, Lipartia, Paulinho, Grechyshkin, Bonaventure, Checher

Preview: A cold night in the Ukraine stands in Manchester United’s way!

Stadion Chornomorets, Odessa, Ukraine

UEFA Europa League 2016/17

Thursday 8th December 2016 – KO 18:00 [Live on BT Sport]

Referee: Tamás Bognar (HUN)

Assistant Referees: Zsolt Varga (HUN) and Balázs Buzás (HUN)

Additional Assistant Referees: Peter Solymosi (HUN) and Ádám Farkas (HUN)

Fourth Official: Theodoros Georgiou (HUN)

Manchester United have travelled to Odessa in the Ukraine in order to face Zorya Luhansk in their last group stage match in the UEFA Europa League this season. United need a point to earn a place in the knockout stages of the competition this season, and a cold night in Easter Europe stands in their way. United are in another period of mixed form this season, winning recently in cup competitions; a 4-0 victory over Feyenoord in the Europa League and a 4-1 victory over West Ham United in the EFL Cup. Their Premier League form is questionable, earning their sixth draw of the season last weekend away to Everton, their third draw in a row in the league, which is making the side suffer in the league with a massive gap from sixth, where they currently stand, to the top spot. Even fourth place, the minimum requirement in the league this season, is a push at this moment in time. Saying that, there are 24 matches still to play in the league this season, with a bust December coming up, then a break on European football, with United fighting on three fronts domestically in the league, the EFL Cup and in their bid to retain the FA Cup this season.

Jose Mourinho on the UEFA Europa League:

“We are going in the same direction. We assumed from the beginning that this is an important competition for us. It is difficult because we play Thursday and then Sunday. We are never given a Monday match to have one more day to rest and prepare. It is difficult to play together. But we want to try to win it and while we are in the competition will try to win it. We want to go as far as possible, step by step. The first step is to qualify from a very difficult group.”

Mourinho on Manchester United away form in the UEFA Europa League this season:

“We lost to Feyenoord, a game that we should win. The team played well, the team had the game always under control and when the team was pushing to win, we lost. Against Fenerbahce, another difficult place to go, we conceded a goal in the first minute which gave the home team the best conditions to win. If you want to qualify we cannot lose three matches away. We need points tomorrow.”

Henrikh Mkhitaryan on not writing Manchester United off in the Premier League:

“We didn’t give up yet on the Premier League. So we’re not saying we’re out of the competition. We are still in the competition, there are a lot of games to go, so we are trying to do our best to be in the top four. And of course, in the Europa League we are also going to try to go as far as we can.”

Manchester United Form:- DWDWD

Everton 1-1 D, West Ham United 4-1 W, West Ham United 1-1 D, Feyenoord 4-0 W, Arsenal 1-1 D

Zorya Luhansk Form:- LDLWL

Southampton 1-0 L, Swansea City 1-1 D, Chelsea 5-0 L, West Ham United 2-0 W, Burnley 2-1 L

Manchester United Top Scorers:

12 – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 5 – Juan Mata, 4 – Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, 3 – Jesse Lingard, Wayne Rooney, 1 – Michael Carrick, Own Goal, Ander Herrera, Chris Smalling

Zorya Luhansk Top Scorers:

5 – Oleksandr Karavayev, 4 – Rafael Forster, Željko Ljubenović, Ivan Petriak, 2 – Artem Gordiyenko, Vladyslav Kulach, Ivan Petryak, 1 – Emmanuel Bonaventure Dennis, Denys Bezborodko, Ihor Chaykovskyi, Dmytro Grechyshkin, Yevhen Opanasenko, Paulinho, Artem Sukhotskiy, Yevhen Tkachuk

Manchester United Squad;

Manager: Jose Mourinho

Goalkeepers: David De Gea, Sergio Romero, Sam Johnstone

Defenders: Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian, Axel Tuanzebe

Midfielders: Paul Pogba, Memphis Depay, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Michael Carrick, Ashley Young, Ander Herrera, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marouane Fellaini, Morgan Schneiderlin

Forwards: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford

Injuries and Suspensions: Chris Smalling (foot), Luke Shaw (knock)

Zorya Luhansk Squad:

Manager: Yuriy Vernydub

Goalkeepers: Oleksiy Shevchenko, Oleh Chuvayev, Ihor Levchenko

Defenders: Artem Sukhotskyi, Mikhail Sivakov, Ihor Chaykovskyi, Mykyta Kamenyuka, Rafael Forster, Hryhoriy Yarmash, Yevhen Tkachuk, Yevhen Opanasenko, Vyacheslav Checher, Eduard Sobol

Midfielders: Artem Gordiyenko, Ivan Petryak, Ihor Kharatin, Oleksandr Karavayev, Željko Ljubenović, Dmytro Grechyshkin

Forwards: Vladyslav Kulach, Paulinho, Yaroslav Kvasov, Denys Bezborodko, Emmanuel Bonaventure Dennis

Injuries and Suspensions: N/A

Predicted Starting XI:

Predicted Score:

Zorya Luhansk 0-3 Manchester United

copyright: JW