In the end, Jose’s gamble paid off and United are back in Europe’s elite. Mourinho put all his eggs in one basket, making the biggest gamble of his career and yet here he stands – vindicated.
United, in the end, were comfortable winners with the young Ajax team never really causing a major threat to United’s goal except for one or two isolated instances. It was a typically pragmatic Mourinho performance and United returned to a healing city with a trophy.
Mourinho named arguably the best side he could, given the injury pile-up. With Mata, Mkhitaryan and Pogba, United had magicians who could turn the game on its head with a silky flick of the heel.
United started the game the better of the two sides. The midfield tried to put the early ball into the path of Rashford who had pace to burn. Luck favoured the Ajax defence twice as they got away with it. Ajax, keeper Onana got away with a mistake as Pogba fired just wide from outside the box.
When not in possession, United sat deep in their own half and absorbed the pressure put on them by the Dutch Giants. But United always won the ball back and quickly turned defence into attack. This is what led to the opener from Pogba. For all the criticism he has faced for the ‘vanishing acts’ in big games, Paul stepped up to the occasion and his deflected shot wrongfooted Onana and ended up in the back of the net.
Antonio Valencia had a good chance to double United’s lead, but all his shot did was sting the palms of Onana. This was the last real chance United had in the first half as they settled deep in their own territory. Ajax controlled possession hereon in but lacked the cutting edge required to prise open a United defence that was ‘shaky’ at best on paper. But on the field, Smalling looked like the Smalling of last season and Blind did not put a foot wrong despite being outmatched both in terms of physicality and pace by Traore.
Traore breezed past Blind and Darmian on one occasion but the former recovered exceptionally with a superb tackle from behind. That was the only major threat Ajax offered in the first period as United led them going into the breather.
When the two sides emerged for the second half, one would have expected Ajax to pile the pressure on the United goal once again but it was not to be. United regrouped and galvanised by Mourinho’s pep talk, won a corner three minutes in. Chris Smalling rose to meet the ball, heading on to Mkhitaryan who finished with a clever improvised flick. Two-nil United.
Herrera was another United player who rose to the occasion but it should have been expected after his performances in the big games in the league this season. He barely put a foot wrong and was a picture of raw emotion after the final whistle had blown.
The second goal seemed to take the air out Ajax’s chest and it looked as if they had given up. United came back and a pinpoint Pogba ball was headed straight at Onana by Fellaini. Kasper Dolberg was replaced at the hour mark and it appeared that the occasion got to the young man. United too made changes of their own as goalscorer Mkhitaryan was withdrawn for Jesse Lingard. Rashford also made way for Anthony Marital.
Lingard had a glorious chance to seal the game once and for all, but Sanchez made a last-ditch attempt to keep the scoreline at 2-0.
It was perhaps a fairy tale ending to Rooney’s United career as the Club’s record goal scorer was brought on by Jose for the final few minutes. He immediately took over the Captain’s armband and eventually was the one who collected the last trophy missing from his and United’s impressive collection.
In the end, the game was won by United’s professionalism and Mourinho’s gamble. The club are back in the Champions League draw and it was the perfect way to unite the city after the tragic events of Monday night.