Manchester United booked a place in the Europa League Round of 32 after a deserved 2-0 victory over bottom-of-the-group Zorya Luhansk in Odessa.
The Reds only needed a point to progress but Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s first goal for the club set United on the way to a comfortable win, which was sealed late on by Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s well-taken finish. Elsewhere in Group A, Fenerbahce triumphed 1-0 at Feyenoord, meaning Jose Mourinho’s men will go into Monday’s draw as group runners-up.
The Reds knew a draw would be enough to go through and, with an important Premier League meeting with Tottenham just under 72 hours away, Mourinho made six changes to the team that drew at Everton. Sergio Romero replaced David De Gea in goal, while Eric Bailly made his first appearance in the defence since October following a knee injury. Ashley Young, Daley Blind, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney also came in to the side.
There had been speculation in the media that the match might not go ahead due to the sub-zero conditions which had engulfed Odessa in the days before the game and on matchday itself, but the pitch was deemed safe and proceedings went ahead in freezing conditions.
United had already secured a 1-0 win over the Ukrainians at Old Trafford, back in September. Despite being without a single win in Group A, Zorya proved stubborn opposition that night and it was the hosts who had the first sight of goal on nine minutes when the ball dropped to Ihor Kharatin 25 yards out. His well-struck shot was beaten clear by Romero, who had kept clean sheets against both Zorya and Feyenoord at home, and the Argentinian was relieved to see Ivan Petriak’s follow-up find the side-netting.
Paul Pogba flashed an effort just wide on 18 minutes and headed over soon after. It was pretty much all United thereafter, bar a speculative long-ranger from Zorya’s Olexandr Karavaev, and the Reds’ best chances of the half came as the interval neared.
Bailly connected well with an impressive overhead kick from a corner but it was straight at Igor Levchenko in the Zorya goal, before the keeper tipped a 25-yard Rooney shot over the bar and then saw Marcos Rojo blast over from the resulting corner.
HALF-TIME MATCH STATS
Possession: Zorya 24% United 76%
Shots: Zorya 3 United 10
Shots on target: Zorya 1 United 3
Corners: Zorya 0 United 7
The second half began with United continuing to dominate and a reward duly arrived on 48 minutes when Mkhitaryan opened his Reds account with a fine goal. After the Reds won possession in midfield, the Armenian captain headed forward and waltzed through the Zorya defence, shimmying past a couple of players, before calmly slotting home. The United attacker clearly likes scoring goals at Chornomorets Stadium having netted a hat-trick here for Shakhtar Donetsk in 2012.
Zorya attempted to get themselves back into the game, but Bailly in particular and United’s defence were in solid form and were rarely troubled until a mini spell of pressure 18 minutes or so from the end. After Bailly had suffered a little injury scare, Romero produced another smart save to keep out Mikhail Sivakov’s header from close range.
Substitute Marouane Fellaini, on for captain Wayne Rooney, headed over soon after and, late on, Ibrahimovic sent a potential netbuster just over the bar, before the Swede got his name on the scoresheet after being put clear by Pogba. It was the finish of a supreme goalscorer and the Reds will now look forward to more European football in February.
Possession: Zorya 29% United 71%
Shots: Zorya 6 United 19
Shots on target: Zorya 2 United 7
Corners: Zorya 2 United 9
Zorya Luhansk: Levchenko; Opansenko, Sivakov, Forster, Sukhotskiy; Karavaev, Kharatin (Grechyshkin 57), Chaykovskiy, Petriak; Ljubenovic (c) (Lipartia 72); Bezborodko (Bonaventure 54).
Subs not used: Shevchenko, Kulach, Paulinho, Checher.
United: Romero; Young, Bailly, Rojo, Blind; Herrera, Pogba; Mata (Lingard 65), Rooney (c) (Fellaini 70), Mkhitaryan (Fosu-Mensah 84); Ibrahimovic.
Subs not used: De Gea, Jones, Martial, Rashford.
Booked: Herrera, Bailly.