Manchester United beat Ajax to claim Europa League title
Manchester United proved too strong for Ajax as a goal in each half won the 2017 UEFA Europa League to complete the English giants’ set of major UEFA club competition trophies.
Strikes from Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan secured the victory in Stockholm but this was the consummate team performance, built on a formidable midfield engine room of Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Pogba. Ajax, whose starting XI averaged 22 years of age, had no answer.
United were in the ascendancy from the off and never looked back after Pogba’s 18th-minute shot took a wicked deflection off Davinson Sánchez and looped in. There were flashes of hope for the Dutch side, chiefly from Bertrand Traoré, but United were nigh on impenetrable.
Mkhitaryan delivered the clinching blow moments into the second period, cleverly hooking in from a corner. There was no let-up in intensity, though, as José Mourinho’s men sealed a pair of hat-tricks: three trophies for the season and the full set of UEFA knockout competition titles.
Man of the match: Ander Herrera (Manchester United)
The Spaniard has long been the unsung hero of this team and this was another selfless performance sat in front of the back four. He worked tirelessly throughout, mopping up and launching attacks with his fine distribution. When Pogba, who dropped alongside him in the closing stages, briefly left his post for a forward foray the disciplined Herrera called him right back.
Tom Kell, Manchester United (@UEFAcomTomK)
That was vintage Mourinho. United started quicker than some anticipated – make no mistake, this was no containment job – but always kept their shape and never really gave Ajax a sniff. They were solid in defence, both full-backs especially impressive, dominant in midfield – credit Herrera and Pogba in particular – and always had an outlet going forward. Their manager was animated throughout the game, but never more so than after the final whistle when he basked in the adoration of the crowd. He knows just how significant 24 May 2017 might prove to be in his career – this could be a real springboard for both him and the club.
Derek Brookman, Ajax (@UEFAcomDerekB)
Obvious disappointment in the Ajax camp but coach Peter Bosz can have few quibbles; the better team clearly won. Ajax simply failed to stretch or open United up. However, Bosz can still take a few positives from tonight’s defeat. Mathijs de Ligt looked comfortable in the heart of defence, Hakim Ziyech showed flashes of his talent and substitute Donny van de Beek acquitted himself well. If this young side can stay together then they have a very bright future.
José Mourinho, Manchester United manager: “This is the most important trophy of my career because it’s the last one I won. The feelings are under the skin and it’s obviously a good feeling. For the team it means everything. It means a third trophy, a Champions League place, a Super Cup in Skopje.”
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Manchester United forward: “To be honest, I shouldn’t have been there [for the goal]. I should have been around the [edge of the] box, but as I had a yellow card, Ander Herrera said that it would be better if I got involved in the corner, stayed in front of the goalkeeper. I saw the ball coming, lifted my leg and scored such an amazing goal.”
Ander Herrera, Manchester United midfielder: “This was the game of the season – now we’re talking about having a great season, winning three trophies. The manager told us that the only thing we could do after Monday [and the bombing in Manchester] was win this. It’s only a football game, it’s only a trophy, but it’s something.”
Peter Bosz, Ajax coach: “We’re obviously disappointed. I didn’t see the Ajax team I’m used to, pressing and competing for first balls. We weren’t good enough. Often, to win finals you must first lose them. It’s all new for all my team. They will learn a lot from it and if we keep the squad together they will be stronger for it.