Ibrahimovic hat-trick puts Man United right in the driving seat

The Swede has scored more goals against St-Étienne than any other club in his career

Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates scoring his side’s second goal during their Europa League win over St-Étienne. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates scoring his side’s second goal during their Europa League win over St-Étienne. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

 

Manchester United 3 St-Étienne 0

Manchester United will take a healthy lead to the Stade Geoffrey-Guichard for next week’s second leg of this Europa League last-32 tie against St-Étienne after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s hat-trick, which was sealed by a late penalty.

The Swede opened his account with a fortunate goal from a free-kick in the first half, and followed up with a tap-in after the break to hand the advantage to José Mourinho’s side, although the visitors might have made United pay for slack defending throughout, an example being when Nolan Roux should have grabbed an away goal near the end but chipped over.

Mourinho made two changes from Saturday’s 2-0 win over Watford here. Out went David de Gea, who was a substitute, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who reported ill, and in came Sergio Romero and Marouane Fellaini.

As expected Paul Pogba lined up against older brother Florentin, who was named in defence by Christophe Galtier, the visiting head coach.

Paul Pogba came up against his brother Florentin. Photo: Dave Thompson/AP
Paul Pogba came up against his brother Florentin. Photo: Dave Thompson/AP

Just before kick-off a raucous travelling support made their section a sea of red and green and set off flares, a few of which were hurled on to the pitch. The smoke from these lingered over the turf and the Les Verts faithful were in loud voice as the match began.

A first scare for United came when a loose Eric Bailly pass allowed the Frenchmen to attack via Romain Hamouma, who drew Sergio Romero out of his goal but could not capitalise.

As they were facing France’s sixth-placed side at home United could expect a first-leg win that would go a fair way to helping them progress to the last 16. The 19 goals conceded by Galtier’s team in Ligue 1 is the second lowest so Mourinho knew his team would need patience to break the visitors down. “They are very well organised and will defend a lot. Probably it will be difficult for us. But sometimes we play at home and have eight, nine or 10 chances, but draw. Perhaps tonight we will have fewer chances but score more goals,” the manager said.

In fact, the wait was only 15 minutes. United lined up in a 4-3-3 that had Pogba on the left of the midfield trident and it was the No6 who initiated the attack from which United opened the scoring, by spraying a diagonal out to the left. When the ball came infield to Zlatan Ibrahimovic Jordan Veretout challenged the striker and the referee, Pavel Kralovec, blew for a free-kick. Up stepped Ibrahimovic; his low shot hit Vincent Pajot in the wall, wrong-footed the goalkeeper, Stéphane Ruffier, and had just enough pace to prevent Loïc Perrin clearing off the line.

From here United dominated in passages with a mix of short and longer passes. Antonio Valencia may have been told to hit high balls and Fellaini posed problems when he roved forward to present a target.

When Ander Herrera missed a tackle on Hamouma there was a scare for United as the No11 motored forward and played in Henri Savet. His snap shot was simple for Romero to save and then came a superb Anthony Martial run. From inside his own half the forward skated through the defence and into the area. His effort rebounded off Ruffier and took Ibrahimovic by surprise, the centre-forward spooning over a left-foot attempt.

As the period neared its end St-Étienne came close to equalising. Hamouma, the visitors’ stand-out performer, broke along the left and set up Kevin Monnet-Paquet but he could not beat Romero.

Mourinho’s interval message may have been to tighten up and try and double the advantage, at least. There was a bright start when Ibrahimovic threatened in the area though ended only with Martial being booked for strong-arming Kevin Malcuit in the neck. Moments later the Swede did hit the back of the net but he was offside.

Mourinho had made a first move at the break, swapping Fellaini for Jesse Lingard, who was pushed further up into a No10 role as United re-set as 4-2-3-1. Martial was arguably United’s best player and the latest evidence came when he zipped in on goal and left fly a rocket from his left boot that Ruffier did well to beat away.

The concern for United was that St-Étienne could still launch attacks and were dangerous when doing so. On 62 minutes Saivet bounced Ander Herrera off him and fed the ever-menacing Hamouma and there was relief for United when the ball was scrambled away.

Martial’s soaring confidence was summed up by a back-heel that fooled Saivet and drew a foul. Daley Blind delivered the dead ball and Pogba rose highest and was unlucky to see the ball hit Ruffier’s bar.

Mourinho introduced Marcus Rashford for the closing phase. The 19-year-old proved a prescient choice, as it was he who zoomed along the left and pulled the ball back for Ibrahimovic’s second.

(Guardian service)

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