Manchester United got on the board at the second time of asking in the Europa League in an unspectacular 1-0 win over Ukrainian outfit FC Zorya Luhansk.
Manager Jose Mourinho picked a strong starting XI after United went down 1-0 to Dutch side Feyenoord in the opening round of Europa League group stage fixtures, and his selections were justified as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the winner.
Truth be told, one gets the feeling there is not a lot to take from these early Europa League fixtures, especially when Mourinho himself makes no secret that enthusiasm for this competition from the staff and players alike is relatively low.
But still, with that in mind here are five quick things to note…
MORE MOTIVATION REQUIRED?
No one is thrilled at having to play in the Europa League. Not the fans, not the players and certainly not Mourinho.
But still, this is a competition United can feel confident in having a big shot at winning. For Mourinho, winning would perhaps just be a nice bonus provided United qualify for the Champions League next season, but for the players I would have thought the chance of any medal would be one worth fighting for.
Especially for the likes of Wayne Rooney – who again had to start on the bench – and others like Marouane Fellaini, Marcos Rojo and Timothy Fosu-Mensah, the Europa League is a fine avenue for them to stake their claim for the first team, particularly while Mourinho continues to work out his best team and who he wants to be a part of his long-term United vision.
Maybe it is the naïve fanboy in me, but I do not really think lack of motivation – for the players at least – should be a factor.
WRONG GAME FOR FELLAINI?
Some might argue that there is no such thing as a good game for Fellaini to play in, but he certainly should not be playing games where United are set to dominate possession as they did on Thursday night.
Fellaini started the season very well but in games where opponents stick 10 men behind the ball, a more incisive player is required in midfield.
Michael Carrick was named among the substitutes, which hopefully means he is in line for his first Premier League start of the season, but he would have been a far better partner for Paul Pogba – who seems hesitant to leave the
Belgium international’s side when he plays alongside him – given the circumstances.
POGBA HITTING FORM
Playing Pogba, on the other hand made perfect sense. The Frenchman is more than capable of playing three games a week and as long as he is playing well, he should play to keep the momentum going.
Being tied to Fellaini, for fear of leaving the Belgian unattended in midfield, perhaps compromised his ability to really break free in the final third and try to impact the game, but his passing range was evident throughout as he helped United control the game with consummate ease.
ROONEY CAMEO NOT ENOUGH
Rooney might be credited with an assist but surely his performance off the bench was not enough to earn him a recall to Mourinho’s Premier League starting XI.
Juan Mata was not quite at the levels he reached at the weekend against Leicester City, but Rooney did little to justify selection on Sunday.
Ironically, his assist might be what underlined his lack of sharpness and confidence more than anything, as he
essentially kneed what was surely meant to be a shot on goal hopelessly in the air for Ibrahimovic to head home.
FINALLY, A CLEAN SHEET
Who would have guessed that United’s next clean sheet would be kept by Sergio Romero?
To be fair, Zorya did not seem too interested in trying to attack United, but they remained dangerous on the counter-attack and United’s defence showed good organisation to combat the Ukrainian team’s surges on goal.
Marcos Rojo still does nothing to convince me that he is anywhere near Manchester United quality, but his selection was the right one given Luke Shaw’s absence and the need to keep Daley Blind fresh for Stoke City on the weekend.
Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly were solid, while Fosu-Mensah further proved himself a more than deserving first-team back-up, even if he is not quite ready to displace Antonio Valencia at right-back permanently.