A moment of normality as United show spirit of Manchester

Ajax 0 - Man United 2: IT was Jose Mourinho’s fourth European final victory in four attempts, a personal triumph for Paul Pogba and a victory that led Manchester United into the promised land of next season’s Champions League.

A moment of normality as United show spirit of Manchester

But after the trauma and tragedy that had been inflicted upon United’s home city 48 hours before the game, it was also a victory that championed normality and saw Manchester dominate the headlines for something other than wanton, merciless death and destruction.

This was the final that United were supposed to win for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the injured Swedish icon back in his homeland to watch, rather than grace, this Europa League Final in Stockholm.

Instead, at the Friends Arena nearly 1,000 miles from the horror of Monday’s events, Pogba’s opening goal and a second from Henrikh Mkhitaryan saw United win it, comfortably, emphatically, for an entire, grieving city.

This was a game that Mourinho and his players readily confessed they entered without the joy and excitement normally associated with a major final, for perfectly understandable reasons.

The club, led by their manager, had handled events in the wake of Monday’s atrocity with dignity and compassion and Mourinho maintained that tone in his pre-match television interviews and even when Pogba scored that all-important first goal on 17 minutes. There were no celebrations from Mourinho, not even a reaction, and certainly none of the fist-pumping and photographer-friendly touchline sprints for which he was known earlier in his career.

It was a goal that was fully merited after United had opened the contest with vigour and panache, only to cede space and advantage to a talented young Dutch side that was, at an average of less than 23 years, the youngest ever to appear in a European final.

Ajax showed their youth and nerves in the early running, certainly when left-back Jairo Riedewald took an appalling throw-in which fell directly to Juan Mata.

Neat work from Marcus Rashford and Marouane Fellaini and the ball was worked to Pogba, dead centre and 18 yards out, for a well-hit shot which took a kindly deflection off Davison Sanchez, wrong-footed Andre Onana in goal and flew into the back of the net.

In their 10th European final, but their first in 21 years, it was all looking a little too much for Ajax and their precocious group of youngsters.

Kasper Dolberg, coming off a spectacular season in which he had led Ajax’s scorers with 23 of their 120 combined goals, literally did not touch the ball until the Dutch restarted the game following that opening goal.

And, in that first period at least, there was little to overly concern United and goalkeeper Sergio Romero, preferred to David de Gea as had been the case throughout this lengthy tournament this season.

When Amin Yours and Bertrand Traore, the Chelsea forward on loan in Amsterdam, managed to link for the first time in the game, after 15 minutes, the move ended with the latter attempting a shot which Romero comfortably blocked for his only piece of serious action in the opening half.

Not that United were able to carve out a catalogue of chances in response, despite looking the more likely to add a second goal.

Antonio Valencia marauded down the right, into space vacated by Riedewald, and unleashed a terrific shot which Onana parried competently at his near post.

And, later in the half, Sanchez was too casual in dealing with the ball just outside his area and almost had his pocket pinched by Rashford, who would have been clean through on goal.

Before the interval, the best Ajax attacking moment would see Traore slalom his way into the United area through two challenges only to be stopped by covering Dutchman Daley Blind.

It had been a thoroughly professional half by United, with none of their players more impressive than Pogba who stamped his authority on proceedings in a manner one would expect from the world’s most expensive footballer.

What United have been missing, at home and abroad this season, is the ability to add a killer second goal - a weakness that explains the preponderance of draws that have blighted their campaign.

But, here, when it was most sorely needed, United found the knack and scored that vital second goal through Mkhitaryan just two minutes after the restart.

The hard-working and effective Fellaini won a corner from which Mata picked out Chris Smalling who headed goalwards, presenting the predatory Mkhitaryan with the chance to score via a spectacular overhead kick from inside the six-yard area.

Even with Ajax having scored a prodigious 120 goals in all competitions this season, United looked firmly in control although Mourinho’s game plan would allow the Dutch the bulk of possession.

Not for the first time, Valencia did well to cover Younes after a Lasse Schone ball seemed to have played him clean in and Pogba, imperious in the first half, showed a lack of concentration to needlessly give away a corner.

Hakim Ziyech looked Ajax’s best route of a way back into the game, curling a shot over and being presented with a 72nd minute free-kick, after a Mkhitaryan handball, which caused United anxiety but ended with him placing a shot directly into the wall.

In between, there was also a chance of Fellaini who headed a Mata cross directly at Onana but, as Mourinho saved his most impressive tactical display of the season for United’s 64th and final game, his side was able to coast over the finishing line.

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