A second half Juan Mata goal was enough to ensure that Jose Mourinho’s side progressed to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Europa League at the expense of FC Rostov.
It was a largely forgettable performance. The hosts looked unconvincing for large parts of the game and it took a Juan Mata finish, coming off a superb Zlatan Ibrahimovic flick, to win the tie for United and secure qualification into the quarterfinals.
Sergio Romero took home the Man Of The Match award with some stunning saves after the visitors sprang to life in the second half. That win came at a price however, as Jose Mourinho lost two more players to injury in the form of Paul Pogba and Daley Blind.
We take a look at some of the major talking points and things we learnt from United’s narrow victory against FC Rostov.
Zlatan’s Touch Of Class
The Swede showed United exactly what they were missing in their FA Cup quarterfinal loss against Chelsea. He gave the Rostov defence a torrid time and was the focal point of their attack. While he wasn’t able to get a goal, he was arguably United’s best player after Sergio Romero.
His superb backheel assist for Juan Mata’s winner was his 17th assist in European Competition since 2011. Only Cristiano Ronaldo has more with 20. At 35, he only seems to be getting better with age in his very first season in England, has established himself as one of United’s most important players.
Tactical Tinkering Continues
For the third consecutive game, Jose Mourinho deployed his side with a 3-man defence and against Rostov, his persistence was eventually rewarded with a positive result. It was by no means a great performance, but it got the job done and that’s all that matters at this point.
Rojo, Smalling and summer acquisition Eric Bailly started in defence, with Daley Blind and Antonio Valencia playing as wingbacks on the left and right flanks respectively. Pogba and Herrera retained their places in midfield, while Mkhitaryan, Ibrahimovic and Mata made up the front three.
United did create their fair share of chances in the first half, but given the way the visitors troubled them, it is clear that they still need to time to settle into the formation and it will be interesting to be see whether Mourinho continues to try and tinker with different formations at this stage of the season.
Romero To The Rescue
United’s man of the match. He certainly did not disappoint when called upon and the Argentine made some superb saves throughout the match, including a stunning last minute save from a beautiful Noboa free kick that seemed destined for the top right hand corner.
The 30-year-old had practically nothing to do in the first 45 minutes but Rostov seemed to have woken up in the second half and Romero was called upon 4 times and each time he produced superb saves to keep Manchester United in the competition.
Had it not been for Romero, the Red Devils would have suffered their worst defeat of the season. One could be forgiven for mistaking him to be De Gea in goal, given the way he performed. It was certainly a fitting performance for only 11th and certainly his most important game of the season.
Keeping The Medics Busy
The Red Devils’ went into this tie without 3 players and may have added 2 more names to their list of injured players. Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial and Bastian Schweinsteiger may very well be joined by Paul Pogba and Daley Blind on the treatment table as they picked up injuries during the game.
They will likely miss out Sunday’s Premier League tie against Middlesbrough and with Ander Herrera and Zlatan Ibrahimovic already suspended, it doesn’t make good reading for Manchester United fans. Besides that, a lot of Jose Mourinho’s players might even be suffering from fatigue.
Their upcoming tie against Boro at the Riverside Stadium will be their 5th game in 11 days, which is far too many in such a short span a time and the players will surely be feeling the effects. The following week, a number of United players will likely be joining their National Teams during the International break for friendlies and World Cup Qualifiers.
It is clear that this Manchester United side are in some desperate need of some rest and the fans and especially Mourinho will hope that all the players return from the break in one piece and he has a fully fit squad available to him once again.