It wasn’t a classic by any means, and many neutrals were probably ready to turn their televisions off by the 60 minute mark; but despite the action – or lack thereof – Manchester United lifted the Europa League Trophy. It was Paul Pogba’s deflected shot in the 18th minute that put Manchester United on course for victory, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s second half goal sealed the deal.
Manchester United were rarely troubled during the 90 minutes. The Red Devils started the night as favourites, and looked it throughout. While Ajax bossed possession with 68.9% of the ball, the team recorded just three shots on target. Jose Mourinho’s tactics were defensive as Manchester United had eight men behind the ball for much of the match, conceding possession to the Dutch. The Red Devils proceeded to hit Ajax on the counter whenever they won the ball, sending long passes down field to Marcus Rashford to run onto. It caused Ajax plenty of problems as the team was stretched, and looked disorganised when retreating in the first half.
When Ajax had the ball the team were ineffective. Despite having the lion’s share of possession, the team couldn’t get the ball to star forward Kasper Dolberg. Every time Ajax were around the 18-yard box, the team dribbled and passed the ball until losing it nearly every time. Fans around the world would be forgiven if they spent much of the evening screaming at their televisions for Ajax’s players to put a cross in; something they did just few times all night.
Key match stats:
- Ajax 68.9% possession, Manchester United 31.1% possession
- Ajax 3 shots on target, Manchester United 4 shots on target
- Ajax 86% pass success rate, Manchester United 68% pass success rate
Credit must be given to Mourinho, who – just like when he masterminded Inter Milan’s Champions League win back in 2010 – got everything right. The 2-0 win not only gained Manchester United their second trophy of the season, but it turned what was a mediocre year into a very successful one. The team will now play in next season’s Champions League, and will have the ability to attract players that were on the fence about joining the club before kickoff. The win was vindication for the signing Paul Pogba and bringing Mourinho in to lead the team forward. Just like Sir Alex Ferguson’s FA Cup win in 1990 that spawned the success Manchester United enjoyed for over two decades, Mourinho may have just kick started his next 20 years at Old Trafford.
Key player stats: Marouane Fellaini
- 79% pass success rate
- 5 tackles
- 1 shot on target
- 15 aerials won
- 31 for 39 passes, with 2 key passes
While the win was massive for the club and the supporters involved, it was a win even bigger for the city of Manchester. The win was a gift to the city still reeling from the terror attacks of Monday night, and it was a way for some to gain some normalcy to life, at least for a few hours.