Manchester United may not have been great all season, as their sixth place league finish would suggest, but in the end they have won two major trophies and secured Champions League football for next season. A much superior season to Tottenham, Manchester City or Liverpool who end the season trophyless it can be argued. Only Chelsea can definitively claim to have bettered United’s season.
Mourinho put all his eggs into the Europa League basket and naturally the pressure on this game was immense. There were question marks if these players could step up to the mark.
United responded on the big stage with an emotional but also professional and pragmatic performance. As Mourinho said in his post-match press conference, poets do not win titles. United controlled Ajax’s strengths and exploited their weaknesses in a ruthless fashion that has not been there all season.
It was far from a beautiful performance from an attacking point of view but more often than not, the stronger and more experienced teams come up trumps in these games.
Ajax are a talented young side but the game was far too big for them and it was essentially men against boys. It was United’s easiest win in a final of a European competition. The battle hardened team had too much for the young pretenders.
Much of the praise will be focused on Mourinho, Pogba and Mkhitaryan for their goals and Ander Herrera as he got the man-of-the-match award. However, United’s unsung heroes were their best performers.
That includes Daley Blind, Marouane Fellaini and in particular Matteo Darmian who all excelled on the night in the jobs they were given to do. These are players who many pundits point to as examples of players not good enough for United.
Perhaps they are not wrong but Blind, Fellaini and Darmian deserve a huge amount of praise. They may not be the greatest players in the world but they do have that winning mentality.
Blind is not your stereotypical Premier League centre back where ignorant Premier League fans claim you need to be big and fast to be a defender. Rubbish. A football brain is more valuable than those two qualities combined and Blind can read the game excellently. He was outstanding in Stockholm.
Fellaini gets a lot of stick and does not look like a United player but the Belgian midfielder has the heart of a lion and Mourinho can trust him with any job he is given. Fellaini and Pogba towered above their opponents not only in stature but in competing and ultimately winning.
Matteo Darmian does get criticism from his own fans for not being gifted going forward and he is not but most importantly he is a very good defender which is his primary job. The Italian gave a masterclass in defensive play against the dangerous Bertrand Traore who was the only Ajax player capable of hurting United.
Darmian has been linked with a summer move away but he may well be worth keeping along with the other unsung heroes on the night as squad players at least.
The Europa League win was crucial in giving United Champions League football once again and now Mourinho can begin the next part of his job in the summer transfer window. It will be a huge window for the club and they need to sign the right players to have any opportunity of winning the Premier League next season.
Vincent O’Shea, Pundit Arena