Manchester United booked their place in the Europa League’s final 16 with a 1-0 win away at Saint-Étienne on Wednesday. Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored the only goal of the game to ensure a 4-0 aggregate victory for the Reds, with Eric Bailly’s late sending off the only blot on the copybook.
It certainly wasn't a game that will live too long in the memory, with neither side looking particularly bothered. Saint-Étienne played with the urgency of a team three goals down, United with the urgency of one three up. Barely a chance had been created when the visitors opened the scoring after a quarter-of-an-hour, when Mkhitaryan diverted a vicious low Juan Mata cross home with the deftest of touches.
A few minutes later United went close to adding a second, with Mata again at the heart of things. His driven delivery from the left triggered some penalty box pinball, with only a reaction stop from Saint-Étienne goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier preventing an own goal.
Two minutes later goalscorer Mkhitaryan was withdrawn for Marcus Rashford, and appeared to leave the field clutching his hamstring. Hopefully it won’t prove a long layoff.
At the other end of the field, United keeper Sergio Romero had very little to do. Not until just over five minutes before halftime did Saint-Étienne create a clear opening, though captain Loïc Perrin headed a Jordan Veretout free-kick straight down the throat of the Argentine shot-stopper after slipping his marker.
The game didn’t get any more exciting after halftime, with the first chance coming just short of the hour mark. Marouane Fellaini was picked out in space inside the box, though he lashed wide of the near post with Zlatan Ibrahimović screaming for a square ball. Moments later Paul Pogba pulled the trigger from distance, though Ruffier was equal to the Frenchman's attempt.
United were dealt a blow soon after, with Bailly picking up his second yellow card in five minutes for a clumsy late challenge on Saint-Étienne winger Romain Hamouma. He could have few complaints. Marcos Rojo was promptly thrown on in place of Juan Mata, as José Mourinho reacted to the unexpected shift in circumstances.
But even numerical inferiority disrupted United’s dominance, and they could’ve added to their four goal aggregate lead with a little more luck. As it was, they had to settle for a 1-0 win on the night, as they cruised through into the round of 16.