Friday 23 June 2017

United victory comes at a cost as team continues to shine without captain

St Etienne 0 Man United 1 (Man Utd win 4-0 on agg)

Manchester United’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan scores the only goal of last night’s game. Photo: Christopher Lee/Getty Images
Manchester United’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan scores the only goal of last night’s game. Photo: Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Luke Edwards

After days of speculation, rumours, claims and counter-claims regarding the future of Wayne Rooney, Manchester United simply got on with making sure they continue to impress without their captain, as they cruised into the last 16 of the Europa League.

For all the intrigue surrounding Rooney and whether he will leave for China before the end of the month - or wait until the summer, as most now expect - the fact is that United have been showing for weeks that they do not really need him anymore.

St Etienne's Loic Perrin challenges Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Photo: Robert Pratta/Reuters
St Etienne's Loic Perrin challenges Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Photo: Robert Pratta/Reuters

Rooney is understood to have been surprised by manager Jose Mourinho's pre-match press conference in St Etienne, in which he repeatedly refused to rule out the possibility that his captain could leave next week, but that there is no problem between them.

All Rooney wants, as things stand, is to be involved in another cup final for United at the weekend. Thoughts and concerns about his future are on hold until after Sunday's League Cup final in Wembley.

This Europa League win - secured with 10 men after Eric Bailly's second-half dismissal - means United have now lost just one game in 25. In most of those, Rooney has either been on the bench or injured. They are moving on without him, even as he remains at Old Trafford.

It will be fascinating to see whether Rooney is involved in Sunday's EFL Cup final against Southampton, given that he expects to be following his return to training. Injuries to Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Michael Carrick in France certainly increase his chances of at least making the bench.

Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan celebrates after scoring against Saint Etienne. Photo: Photo/Laurent Cipriani/AP
Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan celebrates after scoring against Saint Etienne. Photo: Photo/Laurent Cipriani/AP

Mkhitaryan effectively ended this game as a meaningful contest when he put United in front after 16 minutes.

The Armenian is growing into an increasingly exciting figure for Mourinho and although Juan Mata's cross was sublime, the way he delicately steered it past goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier was also classy, taking the ball on the half-volley and stroking it into the net.

However, the winger departed just a few minutes later. Chasing a through ball from Paul Pogba, Mkhitaryan appeared to feel a pain in the back of his leg, signalled to the bench and came off clutching his hamstring.

It looked like a pull rather than a tear, as Mkhitaryan was able to leave the pitch without help, but it still puts his participation at Wembley in major doubt. He headed straight down the tunnel for treatment.

Manchester United's Paul Pogba, right, challenges for the ball with Saint Etienne's Jordan Veretout. Photo: Laurent Cipriani/AP
Manchester United's Paul Pogba, right, challenges for the ball with Saint Etienne's Jordan Veretout. Photo: Laurent Cipriani/AP

His goal had made this an even more straightforward task. Already trailing 3-0 from the first leg, St Etienne would now have had to score five to progress.

They rarely looked like getting one before half-time, even though United dropped their intensity to a training game level. The home team's best chance was a header from Loic Perrin, but although he was unmarked, the defender guided his effort straight at Sergio Romero in the United goal.

There were other half chances, Romero saving with his feet as Kevin Monnet-Paquet threatened to get in behind the defence after Jordan Veretout's goalbound shot was deflected wide.

The visitors might have scored a second, Perrin grateful to Ruffier, who stuck out a hand to prevent an own goal after Zlatan Ibrahimovic had set up Mata for a cross on the run.

United, though, were not having to over-exert themselves. The same could not be said of the home supporters, who were magnificent throughout, with the flag waving, chants and choreography making the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard one of the great grounds to visit.

Their team did not really rise to the occasion, Romain Hamouma summing their evening up when he fell over taking a free-kick.

Even the sending off of Bailly and the withdrawal of Carrick did not really unsettle United.

The Cameroon international was dismissed after picking up two yellow cards, the second one provoking an angry reaction from Mourinho, who claimed Hamouma was pretending to be injured.

Bailly had also been booked following a collision with the same player just three minutes earlier. He will now miss United's next game in Europe.

United still created chances, Marcus Rashford denied by Ruffier after running on to a lofted pass from Bastian Schweinsteiger, Ibrahimovic dragging an effort wide from a similar sort of pass from Pogba.

In the background, the noise in the stands never dropped. If anything, it got louder as the game fizzled out. They were a credit to their club and gave both sets of players a noisy standing ovation at the end. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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