Thursday 25 May 2017

Pogba takes centre stage as Ajax young guns are overawed

This was always going to be a huge night for United's world-record signing Paul Pogba.

The Frenchman has polarised opinion since that eye-watering transfer from Juventus last summer, but this was the player that convinced the club and the manager to pay that £89 million fee.

One of the criticisms of him has been a perceived failure to not produce in the biggest of games, but here he delivered when it mattered most. 

An influence in both boxes, he grabbed the match by the shirt collar and produced an imperious display, dictating play, breaking up attacks, driving forward and constantly wanting the ball.

Like this United side as a collective, there is much to do before he can be regarded as anywhere near the finished article.
But the manner in which he secured an early midfield dominance was impressive and he added a goal - albeit one that was heavily deflected - for good measure.

It may end up going down as an own goal but Pogba will happily accept it as he tried his luck with a 20-yarder, after being afforded a little too much space by Davy Klaassen and Davinson Sanchez. 

It was a slice of fortune that he deserved having been denied by the woodwork so often this season. 
Pogba recently suffered his own personal tragedy after his dad passed away, and the midfielder has marked his return to the team with two goals in as many games - the first time he's done so at club level since April 2016, for Juve.

The youthful energy and exuberance of Ajax had proved so crucial in their run to the final.

But here, it was exposed as a weakness by Jose, the ultimate spoiling tactician.

Six of the Dutch side's starting line up were 21 or under, and it was clear at times that some of their inexperienced young players were left overawed.

Ajax were gripped by nerves and their exciting young team were never able to show the full extent of their glittering promise. 

United controlled the game from the start, with our greater experience of the big stage proving the difference, as many thought it might.

Our physical approach - particularly that of Antonio Valencia, Pogba and Marouane Fellaini - was too much for Ajax.

The team pressed high up the pitch and were not afraid to go long when needed, with Fellaini tucked in behind Marcus Rashford.
Pogba was the star man, but Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, Valencia, Chris Smalling and Rashford also impressed. 

Inspired by the passionate and emotional travelling United fans, this was a no-frills and professional tactical performance. 

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