By Harry Ogilvie
- 2-0 victory sees United win the competition for the first time
- Win seal United’s spot in Champions League group stages for 2017/18 season
After a hectic domestic season and the shocking tragedy at the Manchester Arena on the 22nd, Manchester United had their most important game of the season, the Europa League Final, against Eredivisie runners-up, Ajax.
There was huge amounts of pressure riding on this game. The result against Ajax would define how successful United’s season and make or break critics opinions on Jose Mourinho’s first season as manager of the biggest club in the world.
Ajax who had been hailed for their youthful approach to playing the game with their oldest player being only 30 years old finished 2nd in the Dutch league.
United were coming into this game on a very mixed run of form including poor results against both North London clubs, a draw against Southampton and a 2-0 win against Crystal Palace just three days before the final.
Ajax, on the other hand, had ten days rest and were coming into the game in great form, winning 5 of their last 6 games in the league. United were in for a tough task against a talented, young side.
Who Made The Starting Line-Up?
Mourinho fielded a strong side with some surprise inclusions like Chris Smalling at centre back and Juan Mata, who many thought would be replaced by Jesse Lingard.
The manager opted for Smalling at centre-back, ahead of Phil Jones to partner Daley Blind. This was a pretty unpopular decision with many hoping Smalling would be benched.
Antonio Valencia captained United at right back with Matteo Darmian starting on the opposite side. United’s mobile midfield three was made up of Marouane Fellaini, who’s probably the least mobile of the three, along with Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera.
Marcus Rashford started at number nine, with Mkhitaryan and Mata on either side. Mkhitaryan who has been sensational in the Europa League was expected to have a huge say in the final result. The Armenian and Juan Mata on the wings would no doubt offer plenty of creativity and work rate.
United Hit The Front Early
The game started very quickly with United creating chances from the off, the first chance was when Mata flashed the ball across the box with Fellaini just failing to get on the end of it.
Manchester United dealt brilliantly with the pressure they had on them to perform as well as nullifying any threats Ajax posed.
The first goal came from Paul Pogba in the 18th minute when Fellaini won the ball from an Ajax throw in and squared the ball to Pogba on the edge of the box.
The Frenchman struck the ball hard and low, it deflected off Columbian centre half, Davinson Sanchez and looped over Andre Onana.
The team managed by Peter Bosz threatened very little in the first half, this was a well struck effort from Bertrand Traore that Sergio Romero dealt with expertly.
United created plenty chances throughout the half and looked by far the stronger side, controlling the first half with ease. Ajax only had a handful of half chances which Mourinho’s men managed to deal with effectively and efficiently.
Mkhitaryan Adds A Second For United
The second half started equally fast tempo with Henrikh Mkhitaryan bagging the second goal in the 47th minute after Smalling headed the ball down, allowing him to acrobatically flick the ball into the roof of the net.
Apart from a small number of dangerous crosses and balls into the box, Ajax offered little going forward and barely threatened Sergio Romero’s goal.
Jose Mourinho had clearly proven his class as a manager keeping Ajax under wraps and attacking effectively throughout the game with even more clean cut chances being created in the second half.
And finally, the final whistle blew. United had won the Europa League Final and defeated Ajax 2-0 with goals from Paul Pogba who performed impeccably and Europa League specialist, Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
United fans were ecstatic as well as Mourinho and the players showing their elation as soon as the whistle had blown.
Jose Mourinho looked delighted hugging every player, coach and person he could get his hands on. Mourinho’s son was quick to run onto the field and jump into his father’s arms as the stadium erupted with happiness from everyone connected to Manchester United.
This was a pleasing sight for everyone linked to Manchester United after a rollercoaster season, featuring so many highs and lows.
Mourinho showed his quality as a manager and many authentic, loyal United fans will praise Mourinho and his successes this season.
Firstly, I would like to give credit to Marouane Fellaini, who in my opinion was man of the match. He contributed massively controlling the midfield with his physical presence and even showing his technical ability throughout the 90 minutes, including his assist for Pogba’s goal.
Almost every player on the pitch in a United shirt was at least a 7/10 but for me Paul Pogba was another potential candidate for man of the match.
He also helped Fellaini control the midfield, he stroked the ball around the pitch and moved with purpose and intent which was more than could be said for some of his performances previously. His goal was incredibly important and set United up for the rest of the game.
Ander Herrera, again the final member of the midfield three was brilliant and he was the player awarded the official man of the match. The Spaniard again depicted everything it meant to be a Manchester United player and showed leadership and commitment throughout the season.
Several Players Proved Some Doubters Wrong
Finally, there are three players who were simply brilliant who have been criticised as being “not United quality” or only squad players to quote many reds on twitter. This trio is made up of Daley Blind, Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian.
The Italian full-back, again, not the most naturally gifted going forward was fantastic defensively and faced up to the pace and youth of some of Ajax’s most exciting talents with a sense of unwithering ease and composure.
Blind and Smalling at centre back was Van Gaal’s favoured defensive partnership and it was clear to see why when they performed flawlessly for Jose Mourinho in a big European competition final.
This amazed many United fans, their defending throughout the evening was exceptional, stopping everything.
Daley Blind’s composure coupled with Chris Smalling’s physical presence was a recipe for defensive perfection against a side who press high and have few players over six foot. Jose Mourinho had again provided what some described as a “tactical masterclass”.
The Manager’s View
Jose Mourinho said “It is the end of a very difficult season but a very very good season, we preferred this way than finishing 4th.” This shows he accepts that the season was not entirely successful but there was still plenty to celebrate.
He proceeded to say “This title closes the lot. We have fought hard since the beginning of the competition, we always felt we could win it.”, “This was my hardest season as a manager…Ed Woodward has my transfer list for two months. Now I wait.” This highlights the fact that Jose has plans for the transfer window and believes the season has been incredibly tough.
However, the quote of the night from Mourinho was “There’s lots of poet in football, but poets they don’t win many titles.” This quote definitely raised a smug smile from United fans around the world as it is a clear jab at rival managers, Mauricio Pochettino, Jürgen Klopp and even Peter Bosz who criticised United after the game.
Considering the circumstances, the fact United were representing a country in mourning and from a purely footballing point of view were trying to make the season a success after much criticism.
Manchester United proved to the world they are still the world’s biggest football club and are very much capable of producing when they need to. They also showed Manchester is strong as ever and will not let fear of terrorism take over and win.
Manchester United triumphed in the most unbelievable situation.