Ahead of the fixture, most Manchester United fans had felt the tie would be over in the first leg as José Mourinho placed a strong line-up against Saint-Étienne at Old Trafford. This was more or less the outcome, with the opposition creating a few chances for themselves but not taking them.
Here are the three things we learned from the Red Devils’ latest win.
Ibrahimović’s first hat-trick for United
As well as reaching 23 goals in all competitions for the season, Zlatan Ibrahimović has finally bagged his first hat-trick as a Manchester United player. And it just had to come against Saint-Étienne, who have become the Swede’s personal favourite team as he has now scored 17 goals in 14 games against the French club. Although he has missed chances from time to time over the past few months, the Red Devils seem short of back-up for the 35-year-old and have been relying on him a lot.
From holding play up to producing the goods, Ibrahimović has without a doubt become a key player for Mourinho’s side. With Marcus Rashford not continuing his bright debut season from last year and Wayne Rooney’s time at the club coming to an end, the Red Devils will have to pray that Ibrahimović does not get injured between now and the end of the season.
Pogba with another fantastic performance
Despite playing in a deeper role in recent weeks, Paul Pogba has once again become a key threat and is becoming more disciplined defensively. Receiving more time and space on the ball, it has allowed the midfielder to place dangerous passes into the final third for Anthony Martial and Zlatan Ibrahimović on a few occasions. Since Michael Carrick has been dropped from the starting line-up, Pogba has started to control the midfield and has led by example.
Not only that, he was very unlucky to not be on the score sheet as his headed attempt was denied by the crossbar and his previous shot flew just past the post. It’s a shame that the Frenchman will always be overshadowed due to the heavy price tag he came in for during the summer, however, he has proved a lot of the critics wrong and has played poorly in only two or three games so far this campaign. Tonight, he was head and shoulders above any other player on the pitch.
Mourinho is taking the competition very seriously
Since the start of the Europa League group stages, José Mourinho has taken the competition seriously even though he hasn’t mentioned it as a priority. For instance, the likes of Juan Mata, Paul Pogba and Ibrahimović have made at least six appearances in the European tournament when they could have been rested for the next game by the manager.
However, it’s good that Mourinho is keeping it as a must-win honour as the Red Devils have not been in the top four of the Premier League for quite some time. Whether they go on to win it all is another story, but it’s important for the team and manager to remember that another year without being involved in the Champions League will hurt the reputation of the club.