STOCKHOLM — Manchester United won the Europa League for the first time in their history thanks to a 2-0 victory over Ajax in Wednesday’s final in Stockholm.
Goals from Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan secured the trophy and a route back into the Champions League group stage for next season, while bringing some joy to fans in what has been a deeply difficult week for the English city.
The match was overshadowed by Monday’s terror attack at the Manchester Arena, which killed 22 people, and a minute’s silence was observed before kick-off in front of a boisterous but respectful crowd at Friends Arena.
Ajax, in their first European final since losing to Juventus in the Champions League in 1996, lacked the attacking precision that saw them score five goals across two legs against both Schalke and Lyon and they were 2-0 down shortly after the interval as Mkhitaryan netted his sixth goal in the competition this season.
United were largely on the defensive in the final half-hour but their lead was rarely under threat, as they became the fifth team to win the Champions League, Europa League and UEFA Super Cup and returned to Europe’s top table in style
Former England International Michael Owen was full of praise for Mkhitaryan in the Europa League final. Mkhitaryan’s movement allowed Paul Pogba to unleash a shot from outside the box in the 18th minute, which took a huge deflection off Davinson Sanchez to give Manchester United the lead.
The Armenian then doubled the advantage for the Red Devils after half time, turning home from close range after being found by a Chris Smalling header from a corner.
And Owen was impressed with Mkhitaryan, saying the first goal wouldn’t have happened without his role in it. “It was their (Ajax’s) throw-in, they were creators of their own downfall,” he said on BT Sport.
“Pogba gets into a great position on the edge of the box to have a strike, it was hard to see if it was going in or not. Look at Mkhitaryan, I really like how he takes Veltman away and creates that space for Pogba.” Owen stated.
“If he doesn’t make this run, the goal doesn’t occur. That’s the importance of pressing high, you’ve got players in attacking positions that can affect the game, can affect the defenders.Mkhitaryan’s taken the man away, it’s left that space for Pogba.” Owens commented.