A win, a clean sheet, and as a result; no late goals. Manchester United took care of business in their final Europa League group, finishing second behind Fenerbahce after a 2-0 win over FC Zorya on Thursday Night. It wasn’t always pretty, but on a pitch that Sunday League players would laugh at the Red Devils got the 3 points and moved on to the round of 32.
Jose Mourinho’s four summer signings shone for him in European competition, with the returning Eric Bailly and revitalised Henrikh Mkhitaryan on form, whilst Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic continued their growing on field connection with solid displays despite a few average moments.
It was a win however, the best preparation for Sunday’s clash with Tottenham.
Mkhitaryan Makes It Four Man of the Match Awards out of Five
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is simply a joy. Four man of the match awards out of five as he has started to make a serious mark on the Manchester United squad. He offers something completely different to any other player or particularly attacker in the Manchester United squad. That could prove vital as the season progresses.
He also opened his account as a goalscorer, slotting away a fine solo goal to put United 1-0 ahead. His love affair with the fanbase was already strong, but it will be set to boom with the way he has started his career. Whether or not we know the full truth behind why he was held back, fans sure are glad he is out there now.
Perhaps it was a Mourinho mistake, perhaps it was a masterstroke. Either way, he has added a special and exciting dynamic to the United attack. It may soon start paying dividends in the Premier League. Will he start Saturday?
Pogba-Ibrahimovic Connections Continues To Thrive
Despite wasting a plethora of chances from his French teammate, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s growing understanding with Paul Pogba is something to revel in. Pogba added an assist to his season tally with a superb pass on the turn that put his Swedish number nine through on goal.
Ibrahimovic certainly didn’t have a great outing, not completing a pass in the first half. Nevertheless he’s putting away goals, and despite the trolling of football Twitter, he is thriving as United’s front man.
Zlatan won’t get over 12 goals this season. Fave this. Screenshot this.
— The 12th Man (@_The12thMan) August 7, 2016
People need to lay off Ibra honestly. He’s scoring a minimum of a goal every game at the minute. That’s his job. End of.
— Hayley B (@Hayles_101) December 8, 2016
The above tweet couldn’t have stated it better. He’s doing what he is paid to do, score goals. And nobody in the current squad could perform the role better. If he continues to up his efficiency, with seven goals in six games, the stigma against him won’t last much longer.
Pogba didn’t have a brilliant outing, over complicating things at times, but if he’s going to have a slightly off night, still provide an assist and put together several good sequences, that’s very good for an “average” display. Also it’s better to have a subpar moment against Zorya than it will be against Tottenham.
Bailly The Colossus
Eric Bailly’s return couldn’t come quick enough, as the Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo era of pairing as centre backs was slightly effective, but certainly had a shelf life. He is far and away the best centre back at the club, amazing for a player so inexperience and so raw.
It was typical of his play so far that a man returning from injury would try a bicycle kick on a rock hard pitch, but that’s just part of Bailly’s game. Manchester United will continue to scour the transfer market for his ideal partner in January, and that’s a narrative to follow heading into the winter transfer window.
Unfortunately, Bailly will likely be heading to the African Cup of Nations, so that partner cannot arrive soon enough with concerns surrounding the defenders currently occupying the middle of the defence next to the brilliant Ivorian.
Fellaini Survives The Cull, For Now
Surprising to some fans, Marouane Fellaini returned to the fold after his disastrous appearance against Everton on Sunday. He played 20 minutes off the bench, and it wasn’t a horrible decision ahead of Sunday to rest better players and play the Belgian.
However, it must be asked if Timothy Fosu-Mensah wasn’t a better fit to give some exposure, seeing as he hasn’t played a heap of football this season with competition for spots tight. The Belgian simply doesn’t do anything well, and surely he must be on the outer heading into January.
United fans will pray and hope that is the case, anyway. With a 30 percent win rate with him in the side compared to 60 percent when he is out, it might be time for his career at United to come to an end.
Is Daley Blind United’s Best Left Back, Right Now?
With the struggles and controversy around Luke Shaw this season, Daley Blind has emerged as a serious option as the first XI left back for Jose Mourinho. He’s been superb whenever he has deputised there, illustrated by his key hand in the big win over Leicester in September.
He was solid again last night, and his best displays at United have come on the left flank. His crossing is amongst the best at the club, and his football intelligence is amongst the highest in the entire squad. Shaw is no rush to make his mark, as he seemingly still seeks full confidence after his horrific injury last year.
This does not spell the end for Shaw, but it might take some pressure off him to allow Blind to start ahead of him whilst he builds back his fitness and confidence.
Will this be the weekend Manchester United turn around their good midweek cup form into a solid weekend display and victory? With Tottenham awaiting and a league campaign that needs serious revitalisation, Mourinho and his players need this weekend to be the turning point if they are going to return to Champions League football and the pinnacle of the Premier League anytime soon.