Mata, Makeshift Full-Backs & Man United Marching On

Mata, Makeshift Full-Backs & Man United Marching On

Manchester United have made it to the last 16 of the Europa League, thanks to a 1-0 win (4-0 agg) at St.Etienne and will therefore remain in the hat for the draw which is set to take place in Nyon on the 24th of February.

Mourinho stood by his word as he fielded a eleven that was not far from his best – with the front three of Mkhitaryan, Ibrahimovic and Juan Mata. Paul Pogba also played the whole ninety minutes while Michael Carrick found himself in the starting line-up alongside Marouane Fellaini in midfield. Sergio Romero kept his place on the back of his assured displays in front of goal whenever he was called upon to do a job.

United approached the game with the right amount of control in possession – justified by their comfortable lead gained from the first leg. Mkhitaryan opened the scoring converting a fine eye-of-the-needle pass from Spaniard Juan Mata to open the scoring which did enough to end the tie as a contest. That was his 12th goal/assist for Manchester United under Mourinho in just 25 starts in all competitions.

The Armenian however, was taken off, after what seemed a hamstring injury which was later confirmed by the manager to be a minor problem only requiring a few days, more than three at least, for complete recovery. Jose Mourinho also effectively confirmed that midfielder Michael Carrick will join Mkhitaryan in the sidelines ahead of the EFL cup final due to be played on Sunday making it two key absentees for the Wembley showdown against Southampton.

In a largely innocuous game, Eric Bailly found himself sent off following a loose tackle, thereby earning a one-game suspension meaning the Ivory Coast center-half will miss the first leg of the round of 16 clash in early March.

As the Red Devils with ten men, managed to see off a professional win in the end which stretched their winning streak to five in all competitions having not conceded in four of those, there is a sense of belief back at and around Old Trafford that Mourinho cannot have lost it all after the disastrous last few months at Chelsea.

The result also meant that Manchester United have now kept four clean sheets in a row in European competitions for the first time since 2013, suggesting the rebuilding work that is going on at Man United, carried out as well as one could expect from the Portuguese manager, with best examples being the performances of Ashley Young and Daley Blind at full-back roles.

Owing to all the speculation surrounding Luke Shaw’s lack of game time, despite being arguably the best left back in their squad and not given the minutes to show that, there is definite room for improvement in the starting eleven at United and a weakness that any opposition team would want to expose and exploit.

But with Daley Blind’s ability to understand the role and deliver what the manager wants out of him on a regular basis, the Portuguese has been able to get away with his unique treatment of the 21-year old, who has so far started only 6 games in the Premier League.

Daley Blind Interceptions v St.Etienne (Squawka)

Daley Blind Interceptions v St.Etienne (Squawka)

The Dutch international was particularly impressive in France, making 5 interceptions, 2 key passes and winning 100% of his tackles emerging as one of the stronger contenders for man of the match. Likewise, in the last two games, Ashley Young, with this diligence and commitment, has been able to fill in for the outstanding Antonio Valencia at right back and make sure the drop in quality is not detrimental to the outcome, one of the reasons why Mourinho still rates the 31-year old.

Despite the possibility of more injuries and fixture congestion United face at the moment, something which Mourinho never fails to throw light at, at every opportunity, he is doing well to steer the Red Devils towards what could potentially be a hugely successful end to his first season as Manchester United are marching on in another cup competition in 2017.