By Harry Ogilvie
- Mata’s tenth goal of the season gives United 1-0 win
- United in hat for quarter-final draw after 2-1 aggregate win
- Pogba and Blind forced off in second-half with injuries
In Manchester United’s penultimate game before the international break, they took on mid-table Russian side, Rostov in the second leg of their Europa League last 16 tie.
The winner of the tie would go through to the quarter-final, increasing their chances of winning the trophy and playing Champion’s League football next season.
In what was a rather dull affair, United dominated for the majority with Rostov having brief spells of possession. The game however was remarkably mundane, with only a handful of chances for either side. Despite chances being few and far between, when Mata was given the opportunity, he took it.
Mourinho again opted for his now seemingly favourable 3-5-2. He stuck with Smalling and Rojo with Bailly coming into the fray to replace Phil Jones.
Ibrahimović started up front (due to his suspension only applying to domestic games) with Mkhitaryan, meaning Rashford took his place on the bench.
Luke Shaw was once again missing from the match day squad with many hoping he could potentially start against relegation fighting, Middlesbrough.
Martial and Rooney were also absent due to injuries suffered in training a day or two before the Chelsea game. Jose however still managed to select a strong starting XI featuring Pogba, Mkhitaryan and Mata.
Bleak Game at Best
In a game that featured few chances, United bagged an important goal through Juan Mata who tapped the ball in from close range after Ibrahimović flicked on a terrific cross from Mkhitaryan.
United came close early in the first half when Mata picked out Mkhitaryan with a delightful chipped ball over the top only for him to narrowly put the ball wide. This was another flawless example of an ever-evolving relationship between the pair.
Zlatan also unleashed a thunderbolt of a shot in the first half which fired back off the post. This was the closest the giant Swede came to scoring his 28th goal of the season.
Unfortunately for United, Paul Pogba sauntered off the pitch holding his hamstring as well as Blind being substituted for a knock on the side of the head.
Both players are now doubts for the game against Middlesbrough on Sunday, adding to Mourinho’s woes.
Despite the lack of entertainment, there were still positives to take from what was a poor game.
Sergio Romero, who started in place of De Gea, pulled off two or three exceptional saves that effectively kept United in the game.
Romero’s fellow Argentinean, Marcos Rojo who has been in splendid form in recent matches again came up with the goods with some outstanding tackles and unrivalled composure when playing passes forward.
Valencia Star Performer Once Again
Antonio Valencia was also very impressive with his tireless running and constant threat down the right side when he took on the Rostov full back.
Valancia’s consistency has been unbelievable this season compared to last. The man can only be described as a revelation.
He whipped in numerous menacing crosses with United failing to take advantage of any of them. Wing-back is the perfect position for the Ecuadorian, his overlapping runs and frightening pace has been a huge asset for Mourinho recently, not to mention his ability to take players on.
He is also solid defensively and has made some extraordinary last ditch tackles in recent matches. Especially one in the dying embers against Chelsea. The 31 year old has also successfully pocketed some of the Premier League’s best wingers on his way to become the latest fan’s favourite.
The Manager’s View
Jose discussed the congestion in fixtures for United and the difficulty his team faced, he said “It’s difficult to play Monday with 10 men, it’s difficult to play now, it’s difficult to play 12 o’clock on Sunday.”
When asked about Pogba’s injury, he responded by saying “I don’t know for sure but no Middlesbrough and national team”. This should mean he’ll hopefully be back for the West Brom game after the international break.
Mourinho believes “a lot of things are going against us” but “the boys are amazing”, showing his strong belief that United are a tight-knit unit again. However he also said “we will probably lose the game on Sunday” as “fatigue has a price”.
In the back of his mind, he no doubt believes his side are more than capable of beating a struggling side with no manager and is trying to create an ‘us vs the world’ mentality.
In a match that was in no way going to be sensational, it still managed to disappoint. The performance was as unimpressive a winning performance as we’ve seen this season. However Mourinho’s men got the job done and avoided what could have been a gruelling prolonged tie had Rostov found a goal.
Many individuals were again impressive ahead of our game against Middlesbrough at the weekend.
The serial-winner, Jose Mourinho will undoubtedly find a way to rally his troops before our third and final game of the week. With two games in hand and a 6 point gap between us and fourth, this fixture has never been so important.
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