Manchester United 2 Crystal Palace 0: Jose Mourinho yesterday gave United supporters a glimpse of their future with four full debutants, their youngest player in 61 years and the club’s youngest line-up in Premier League history.
There was also the opportunity for a possible farewell to Wayne Rooney, replaced to a standing ovation three minutes from time, as time surely runs out on his Old Trafford career.
But for the United manager there was clearly only one issue in his thoughts as his team ended this most curious of campaigns — Wednesday’s Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm.
Perhaps the pressure is beginning to tell on Mourinho whose behaviour post-match was bizarre, in the extreme.
While all eyes were on Rooney and his talented young team-mates performing a lap of honour on the field, Mourinho rushed into a press conference and immediately left due to the lack of journalists in attendance.
Even the club’s in-hour television station was not spared Mourinho’s mood. “I’m in a final, let me go home, I’m in a final,” was all the United manager offered to MUTV.
It was behaviour which indicated the growing resentment Mourinho feels at how his first season in charge is being judged by sections of the media and, possibly, indicated the tension he is beginning to feel.
For all the negatives that have, quite rightly, been said and written about Mourinho’s first season in charge, victory against the Dutch will mean he has won two major trophies, plus the Community Shield, and qualified for the Champions League in nine months.
But defeat would paint a very different picture and some of the many negative statistics that have been spun about his team’s struggles, particularly in front of goal, will be the main takeaway from the 2016-17 campaign.
With an eye on Stockholm, Mourinho named a side with an average age of just 22 years, 284 days, with a precise plan in place for the use of the senior players.
Paul Pogba had been absent from the club for over a week on compassionate leave following the death of his father and was given a half in which to regain some match sharpness.
It was also a half in which he settled the game’s outcome, scoring the second goal, which he dedicated to his father, and laying on the opener for 21-year-old attacking midfielder Josh Harrop with a superb through ball.
They had more to cheer just four minutes later as Jesse Lingard raced half the length of the field and a Joel Ward mistake presenting Pogba with the simplest of finishes.
Rooney was desperate to end what will surely prove to have been his last game for United with a goal but the closest he came was almost turning a late Bakary Sako free-kick into his own goal.
At least he was given the chance to receive the accolades from the United faithful as Mourinho brought him off to be replaced by winger Angel Gomes, cousin of former United star Nani and, at 16 years, 262 days, their youngest player since David Gaskell in 1956.
Manchester United (4-1-2-3):
Pereira 6; Fosu-Mensah 7, Bailly 7, Jones 6, Mitchell 7; Tuanzebe 6; McTominay 7, Pogba 8 (Carrick 44, 6); Lingard 7 (Martial 45, 6), Rooney 6 (Gomes 87), Harrop 9.
Subs not used:
Blind, Willock, O’Hara, Dearnley.
Crystal Palace (3-4-2-1):
Hennessey 5; Kelly 5, Tomkins 6, Schlupp 6; Ward 6, Milivojevic 6, Puncheon 6, van Aanholt 5 (Kaikai 66, 6); Zaha 8 (Campbell 79, 6), McArthur 6 (Sako 60, 6); Benteke 6.
Subs not used:
Speroni, Yann, Chung-Yong, Wan-Bissaka.
A Taylor 6
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