Manchester United got their Europa League campaign off the ground last night with a one-nil win over Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk.
After defeat to Feyenoord in the opening group stage fixture, United needed a result here and they got it. But it was far from a convincing performance from the Red Devils, especially considering the relative strength of the side José Mourinho fielded.
It was a laboured display in which the home side managed to muster just two shots on target, and the winning goal came with a hefty slice of good fortune — for once Wayne Rooney’s incompetence proved rather useful.
Zorya came to Old Trafford with the aim of sitting deep and launching counter attacks when they’d won possession, and they did a sound job of executing their plan.
So the fact that United managed to overcome their visitors without ever being in any real danger is something that ... well ... it’s something.
It also means that they have now strung together three successive wins after a spell of poor form, which is great. And with Stoke City at home on Sunday, there’s no reason to believe United won’t make it four on the bounce before the international break.
Here are the player ratings from last night:
Sergio Romero - 6
The Argentinian filled in for the rested David de Gea against Zorya and didn’t really do anything wrong. He made a tidy stop to deny Zorya substitute Paulinho — who registered the game’s first shot on target with more than an hour played — but he didn’t have a great deal to do, and de Gea will come straight back into the side on Sunday.
Marcos Rojo - 4
Not really sure how Rojo continues to be selected, even in second-string line-ups. He wasn’t quite as bad against Zorya as he had been against Feyenoord, but it was another undisciplined display from the left-back. The opponents had clearly identified him as a weakness, and they exploited his inability to get back into position every time he joins an attack by launching counters into the space he’d vacated.
Chris Smalling - 6
Smailling did fine, wasn’t called into action too often. United dominated possession and any Zorya counter-attacks were via the wide positions. Any time the away side tried to move centrally, they were snuffed out.
Eric Bailly - 6
Bailly did some excellent work in using his electric pace to track back and stifle Zorya’s breaks. But the Ivory Coast defender was also a little rash in some of his challenges and picked up a booking.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah - 7
It was a rare start for the teenager and he acquitted himself well. Sensible and precise in possession, while also displaying his incredible athleticism when given the chance to burst forward, and provided the cross that led to the winner. It was a thoroughly decent display from Fosu-Mensah, and evidence that he should be trusted with more first-team game time.
Marouane Fellaini - 5
Fellaini started alongside Paul Pogba at the base of midfield, and again showed his discomfort in the position. In contrast to Ander Herrera’s performance in the same role against Leicester City, the Belgian constantly found himself ahead of the play when possession was lost, offering none of the cover to the back four that he was in the team to provide. Fellaini also slows United’s passing down to a snail’s pace and it’s getting excruciating to watch.
All of this is not entirely his faulth, though. Fellaini is not a pivot, never has been and never will -- stop playing him there.
Paul Pogba - 5
After a man of the match display at the weekend, Pogba was unable to translate his rediscovered form into Europa League action. The Frenchman tried to display his creative talents to unlock the Zorya defence, but was careless in possession, losing the ball far too often.
Marcus Rashford - 6
Rashford started brightly and was looking to run at the Ukrainian side’s defence in the opening 20 minutes. He also came closest to opening the scoring in the first half when he rattled the crossbar from 12 yards. But the youngster’s influence petered out a little bit towards the end of the game.
Juan Mata - 6
Mata buzzed around in typical fashion, trying to instigate attacking moves by playing one-twos and through-balls. It wasn’t really happening for him though and he was replaced by Ashley Young with 15 minutes to go.
Jesse Lingard - 4
It was an off-day for Jesse Lingard. The 23-year-old struggled to get into the game and offered little to no creative influence. He was replaced by Wayne Rooney after 67 minutes and his place in the line-up will likely come under threat by Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan at the weekend.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic - 7
Ibrahimovic linked with the midfield to decent effect and came close to scoring via a deflected effort in the first half. It was a failry quiet display from Zlatan overall, but he was on hand to convert Rooney’s stunning, totally intentional assist in the 69th minute.
Wayne Rooney - 6 (on for Lingard after 67 minutes)
In school playgrounds around the world today, there will be thousands of children trying to recreate Wayne Rooney’s magnificent assist.
Where most would have selfishly shot for goal, Rooney elected to elegantly redirect Martial’s cross for Ibrahimovic to score — ingeniously using his knee to pick out the towering Swede. Some people seem to think that Rooney was actually trying to shoot and completely spannered his technique, but we know better than to doubt our skipper, don’t we? Brilliant, Wazza. Bloody brilliant.
Anthony Martial - 7 (on for Mata after 74 minutes)
Martial showed that he had recovered from the blow to the head which saw him carted off early in the defeat to Watford. The Frenchman only made a short cameo appearance against Zorya but still found time to set off on some exciting, penetrative dribbles.
Ashley Young - No rating (on for Fosu-Mensah after 74 minutes)
Young came on and filled in at right-back. Although he played the same amount of time as Martial, it’s difficult to give him a rating as he didn’t really have anything to do.