Jose Mourinho added the Europa League to his and Manchester United’s trophy cabinet following an emotional win in Stockholm over Ajax, and one which will take them into next season’s Champions League.
Paul Pogba’s deflected shot put the English side ahead 18 minutes in, and then three minutes into the second half Henrik Mkhitaryan gave United cause for celebration, though relief was a more apt emotion given the circumstances.
An air of youth permeated the match as Ajax fielded the youngest ever starting eleven in a major European final – 22 years, 282 days. Marcus Rashford become the youngest Englishman to start a major European final since 1980, and Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt is now the youngest player ever to to the same.
Prior to the game the assembled Red Devils faithful were not in the party mood given the events which occurred on Monday at the Manchester Arena, and understandably so, and for large periods of the first half they were noticeably subdued, as raw emotion came to the fore.
Looking to elevate some of that tension, United shot out of the blocks as with Pogba having an early effort on goal, then Juan Mata flashing a ball across goal for Marouane Felliani, but the Belgian was just unable to get a touch and poke home.
It took Ajax a full 15 minutes to get any kind of foothold in the game, with United physically more dominant and sharp, and their first chance came way of Bertrand Traore but he smashed straight at Sergio Romero.
However, just as it looked like Ajax had settled Pogba put United one up. After a nice neat move on the right,the ball eventually found its way to the French midfielder on the edge of the area, but his shot took a wicked deflection off the shin of Davinson Sanchez, completely wrong-footing Andre Onana.
Not to be deterred, Ajax continued to work the ball as well as could be expected given the poor pitch condition, and Traore almost wriggled his way in on goal, but for an excellent last ditch tackle from Daley Blind.
Troare was the one Ajax player who looked like he could inspire his team and not long before the break he played a nice one-two on the edge of the 18-yard box with Kasper Dolberg, and just as he was about to pull the trigger Matteo Darmian poked the ball out of play.
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A sense of belief was apparent in the Ajax ranks as they stepped out for the second half, but that was quickly extinguished as Mkhitaryan doubled United’s lead. Chris Smalling won the header from a corner , knocking the ball down into the path of the Armenian, who flicked the ball into the net.
After that goal, things became a little scrappy from both teams and chances dried up, though United were the most likely and Pogba clipped in a ball from the right for Felliani but he could only head straight into the arms of Onana.
Things did get a little heated as Mata went in late on De Ligt and Ander Herrera squared up to a couple of the Ajax defenders, before he was pushed to the ground by Jairo Riedewald.
It could have been three as Pogba, once again the instigator, played Jesse Lingered in on goal but in taking an age to shoot, he was caught by Sanchez who regained the ball for the Dutch side.