The game itself was vastly dull, with a banana relay from José Mourinho to Ashley Young to Marcos Rojo making the highlights and being the most enjoyable moment of the night.
The first half consisted of a few testing through balls played in by Juan Mata that eventually fell into the Rostov goalkeeper’s gloves. To say the first half was a non-event is being generous.
The second half had a bit more zip about it, primarily because Rostov came out of their half and tried to score an important away goal. To their credit, the Russian side tested Sergio Romero on more than one occasion, causing the Argentinean goalkeeper to be hot on his toes.
However, with the aggregate being level at 1-1, Henrikh Mkhitaryan kickstarted an attack in the 70th minute which led to a wonderfully worked Mata goal. Zlatan Ibrahimovic sent Mkhitaryan through out wide, allowing the Armenian to pick a beautifully-weighted cross into the Swede’s path.
The striker faintly flicked the ball on through his legs into the reach of Mata, who forced the ball into the back of the net. It was a much-needed goal for the Red Devils and one that saw out the game and the tie.
The downside for Manchester United is that Paul Pogba had to be substituted just after half-time due to a hamstring injury. Looking at the way the French midfielder came off, there is little hope and belief that Pogba will be fit for the game against Middlesbrough on Sunday.
Ibrahimovic and Ander Herrera will also be ruled out of the weekend game against Middlesbrough, because of match game bans.
Can Manchester United win the Europa League?
With AS Roma being knocked out of the competition to Lyon in the Round of 16, the firm favourites are Mourinho’s men. The other big teams left in the competition are Besiktas, Celta Vigo, Genk, Ajax, Schalke, Lyon and Anderlecht.
Out of those teams, it is clear that Man United are the frontrunners and should lift the trophy come May 24.
The hiccups could come against Turkey’s Besiktas and France’s Lyon, but other than that, there shouldn’t be much of a resistance to United’s charge.
Mourinho’s going to arrive at a crossroads after the international break – either he chooses to go all in for the Europa League and win it or risk the Europa League by playing his best team in the Premier League.
The heavy congestion period for Man United in the league would suggest that their best bet is to prioritise the European competition in the hope of Champions League qualification.
It would be a very underwhelming year if the Red Devils only end up with the League Cup and without Champions League qualification. While winning the Europa League – the only trophy the club have never won before – would be a great achievement in Mourinho’s first season, the main objective is to make sure they are playing top level European football next season.
Whether that comes from lifting the trophy or finishing in the top four, that is for Mourinho to decide. What he can’t do is deliberate and not make a decision.Published 17 Mar 2017, 13:43 IST