Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan in action during the Europa League group A soccer match against Zorya Luhansk at Chornomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine.
Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan in action during the Europa League group A soccer match against Zorya Luhansk at Chornomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine. Efrem Lukatsky

Man Utd into knockout stages of Europa League

FOOTBALL: Manchester United, hoping to avoid a winter of serious discontent, achieved a first objective by qualifying for the Europa League knockout stage amid the cold blast of sub-zero temperatures on the edge of the Black Sea in Odessa.

As it transpired, Feyenoord's defeat at home to Group A winners Fenerbahce meant that even a defeat in eastern Ukraine against Zorya Luhansk would have taken United through, although a sixth successive away defeat in European competition would hardly have helped morale for the potentially difficult task as Champions League drop-outs enter the tournament in the new year.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan, slowly being integrated into the side, scored a fine first goal for the club soon after half-time, an interval in which United's players may well have felt the acid side of Jose Mourinho's tongue.

The second did not come until the closing stages, Zlatan Ibrahomovic continuing his recent scoring run.

Mourinho's men are now favourites for the competition with most bookmakers but in finishing second in Group A, they go into Monday's last-32 draw as an unseeded side.

Mkhitaryan's goal iced an impressive performance for the playmaker after struggling for game time in the English Premier League.

"He has a strong mentality, he was very determined to fight against his difficult adaptation and he's doing that in the best way,” Mourinho said.

"He worked really hard physically, tactically, and the talent we know is there.

"The talent, we knew what we were buying.

"He fought to improve and now he is playing good in the Premier League, Europa League and the EFL Cup, and now evolving a bit more happiness for him,so I'm very pleased.”

United's captain, Wayne Rooney, was looking for the goal to equal Sir Bobby Charlton's club record of 249, but will have to wait another day after being substituted with 20 minutes left.

With Sunday night's (AEST) important English Premier League game against Tottenham in mind, United left Michael Carrick at home as well as full-backs Matteo Darmian and Antonio Valencia.

- with INM



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