Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan lift Manchester United to Europa League triumph
Europa League final, Friends Arena – Ajax 0 Manchester United 2 (Pogba 18 Mkhitaryan 48)
Manchester United eased past Ajax 2-0 to win the Europa League title and progress to next season’s Champions League on an emotional night in Stockholm.
Paul Pogba’s deflected effort and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s improvised finish proved the difference as United collected their second trophy of the season following their League Cup triumph in February.
Following on from the tragic events in Manchester on Monday night, a game of football was always going to be just that, but it was an important and perhaps fitting result for Jose Mourinho’s team. It was also a deserved one. A minute’s silence, which shifted to a minute’s applause, was held before kick-off in memory of the 22 people who died.
Marouane Fellaini squandered a great early chance before fortune favoured Mourinho’s brave. Space opened up for Pogba on the edge of the box from Fellaini’s pass and his goalbound effort took a huge deflection off Davinson Sanchez, with a wrong-footed Andre Onona only able to flap a desperate hand as the ball hit the back of the net.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Manchester United celebrates scoring the second goal to make the score 0-2 with team-mate Paul Pogba during the UEFA Europa League Final between Ajax and Manchester United at Friends Arena on May 24, 2017 in Stockholm, Sweden.Getty Images
If the sense of occasion seemed to inspire United, it had the opposite effect on Ajax who seemed overawed by the occasion – the fearless, attacking, free-flowing football that had got them to this stage sadly lacking in the opening half.
United continued to dictate after the restart and their dominance was quickly rewarded as Chris Smalling headed Juan Mata’s corner into Mkhitaryan’s path, with the former Dortmund man finishing with a smart overhead.
Jesse Lingard had the chance to make it more comprehensive but for a great cover tackle from the excellent Davinson Sanchez and the match ended with Wayne Rooney, whose career began for United with a hat-trick in the Champions League, coming on for possibly the final time in a United shirt.
In winning the Europa League for the first time in their history, United win their fifth European title. They will join the 2017-18 Champions League at the group stage, along with Premier League rivals Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City. Liverpool must negotiate a play-off.
2017, Jose Mourinho, UEFA Europa League, Getty ImagesGetty Images
Football plays second fiddle. It was always only going to be just a game of football after the horrific events of Monday night but it was played in great spirit. Someone once said that football is not a matter of life and death, it’s much more than that. It isn’t. It really isn’t.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Paul Pogba (Manchester United): It hasn’t always been easy to isolate what his position is this season on a difficult opening year in red. He knew his role tonight, set the ball rolling with a fortuitous effort but defended manfully, broke up attacks and set United on the front foot in equal measure.
Manchester United celebrate Paul Pogba's openerGetty Images
10’ – FELLAINI CHANCE! Mata whips in a wicked ball and Fellaini fails to get a clean contact on his header. Should have done better.
16’ – ROMERO SAVE! Ajax work it nicely down the left. It’s cut back to Traore from Younes but his shot is batted down by Romero.
18’ – GOAL! Ajax 0-1 United. That’s tough on Ajax. It opened up for Paul Pogba and he took on the shot at goal. It takes a wicked deflection off Sanchez and into the net with Onona going the wrong way.
24’ – ONONA SAVE! A confident run and confident strike from Valencia is batted away from Onona as United seek a second.
48’ – GOAL! Ajax 0-2 United. That’s the second they wanted and breathing space. The corner is swung in from Mata and it’s Mkhitaryan with the overhead from close range after Smalling headed goalwards.
65’ – FELLAINI CHANCE! Fellaini should have wrapped it up but plants his header straight at Onona from Pogba's cross.
88’ – GREAT TACKLE! Lingard is through on goal but a great last gasp challenge from Sanchez prevents a killer third.
Manchester United's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho (L) and Manchester United's French midfielder Paul Pogba celebrate after their team won the UEFA Europa League final football match Ajax Amsterdam v Manchester United on May 24, 2017 at the Friends ArenGetty Images
- United win the Europa League for the first time in their history. They have now won every major trophy available to them.
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic has won the first major European trophy of his 18-year career.
- Jose Mourinho is the first United manager in history to win two major trophies in his first season in charge.