Manchester United clinched a first-leg win against French side St. Etienne to all but end the tie and guarantee progression into the next round of the Europa League. Zlatan Ibrahimovic bagged his first hat-trick in a United shirt, whilst the Pogba brothers (Paul and Florentin) squared up against one another for the first time in their careers.
Here are five talking points that arose from the game…
You’ll have to forgive the pun, sorry. Ibrahimovic continued his impressive scoring record against St. Etienne by bagging himself three goals – probably the worst hat-trick he has scored in his career: a deflected free-kick, tap in and penalty. He’s now netted 23 times for United, at the ripe-old age of 35.
But, he didn’t play particularly well. It sounds ludicrous that a player who wins the match didn’t play well, but that is the case. In fact, it has happened quite a lot this season. That is Zlatan’s quality, however: to play at a mediocre level, but still score, and score for fun. His touch could be off, his movement could be slow, but he will invariably be in the right place at the right time (sorry for the cliche, readers, that’s two writing sins in quick succession).
Manchester United fans won’t mind too much if the big Swede churns out average performances, but still nets on a consistent basis.
It does not suit the mocking narrative that permeates social media, but Pogba has been brilliant for Jose Mourinho – granted, it took him a few months to adapt, but he has been an integral part of United’s formidable form.
Once again, Pogba’s power and technique were on show for all to see. He is now a vital cog in the Mourinho machine and it remains bemusing to see perpetual criticism for the French international; instead of praising his beautiful range of passing, striding runs and composed nature, Twitter likes to take his play out of context and show a wild effort on goal.
Do not judge Pogba if you don’t watch Pogba.
Mourinho voiced his concern at the lack of focus in the build-up to the match, telling the press that:
“I had the feeling immediately in the dressing room—too noisy, too funny, too relaxed. Then my assistants had the feeling in the warm-up, with some of the guys not really focused on getting the right adrenaline in their bodies.”
This speaks to a dressing-room still stuck in the recent past. Under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, the players would have gotten away with such frivolity as both managers appeared to have little control over the dressing room.
However, it is apparent that Mourinho let his opinions be known, to put it lightly, as United were much-improved in the second half. This seems to mark a reversion back to the days of Sir Alex Ferguson, where no such joviality and juvenile activity would take place before a match.
Keane on Pogba
Roy Keane had this to say in the wake of the Pogba brothers reunion.
“They’ve spoken to each other more tonight than I’ve spoken to any of my brothers in the past five years – so all a bit strange.”
Was it strange? Or was it just brotherly affection? Let us know.
There were moments in the first half where United looked vulnerable; St. Etienne looked potent on the break and the Reds were lucky to go in at half-time with their lead still intact. But, under Moyes and van Gaal, one feels United would have conceded under such pressure – the fact they did not, under Mourinho, is symptomatic of the resilient nature Mourinho has embedded at Old Trafford.
They’ve only lost once at home this season, to Manchester City all the way back in September, in a game many felt United should have got something out of.
If Manchester United maintain such formidable form at home then their bid for a Champions League spot looks in safe hands.