Wayne Rooney scored goal No248 for Manchester United as José Mourinho’s side moved to within a point of the Europa League knockout stage and the captain to just one more strike from equalling Sir Bobby Charlton’s record for the club.
United need only draw at Zorya in the final group match after a satisfying night in which Zlatan Ibrahimovic forced a late own goal from Brad Jones – the goalkeeper deflecting in the striker’s pass – before Jesse Lingard scored in added time. Rooney can be especially pleased with his display as he also created Juan Mata’s goal and gave what was his best display in a United shirt for a while.
The team Mourinho sent out had six changes. In came Daley Blind, Ibrahimovic, Luke Shaw, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Rooney and Sergio Romero from the 1-1 draw with Arsenal on Saturday. A question was where Paul Pogba and Rooney might operate given the selection of Mkhitaryan for what was only the second start at United. The answer was the captain at No10 and Pogba in central midfield, with Mkhitaryan along the left.
All three were involved in a bright start as Rooney sent over a crisp cross towards Ibrahimovic, then Pogba blazed at Jones’s goal from a Mkhitaryan header.
About 8,000 Feyenoord fans had made the trip, of whom 4,000 had done so without a ticket. Those who were in a packed away section sounded in hearty voice on a night when there was a markedly larger police presence inside the stadium.
As is often the case with Mourinho’s United, they struggled to maintain their rhythm, although Pogba impressed with a willingness to make something happen. A strong run down the left may have ended with the midfielder on his backside but at least he was having a go. Mkhitaryan fed him once more and he struck a shot at Jones that kept the goalkeeper on his toes.
In contrast to their raucous fans Feyenoord had begun quietly but when they awoke United had problems and came close to conceding. First up, Eljero Elia made a mug of Phil Jones on the left. The No11’s ball then found Rick Karsdorp in the area. His shot was saved well by Romero, who after springing to his feet stuck a leg out to repel Dirk Kuyt’s goal-bound effort.
United’s response was to fashion their clearest chance up to that point. Again, Pogba was the main man as he chipped the ball to the onrushing Mkhitaryan, though the Armenian’s finish was weak enough for Jones to collect calmly.
Next up it was Rooney who placed the ball on an inviting trajectory – this time Pogba was the target and he might have been more physical when challenging but losing the aerial duel.
Rooney’s opener was delightful. The 31-year-old took possession inside his half, drove along the left, peered infield and passed to Ibrahimovic. As the Swede probed the Feyenoord defence Rooney continued his run. Ibrahimovic’s clever ball back to him made the move a one-two and from close to the advancing Jones the forward chipped the keeper.
Cue a particularly fierce celebration from Rooney, which may have been a release of emotion following his recent troubles. Goal No39 in European competition made him United’s record scorer in Europe and separated the sides at the interval.
United had finished strongly and continued into the second half in the same manner. Mkhitaryan had done far better than in his only previous start – when he was hauled off during the break in September’s Manchester derby at Old Trafford.
The 27-year-old was the recipient of a crafty pass from Shaw as he lurked in the area and was unlucky to see his shot blocked. Moments later Mkhitaryan was pulled back – obvious to all apart from the referee, Manuel Gräfe, and his assistants because nothing was given.
Mourinho was peeved, though his emotion changed to admiration when Mata went close to beating Jones with a sublime sand wedge of an attempt with his left foot that caused the goalkeeper to scramble before tipping over.
As was the case against Arsenal, United were the far better side yet were struggling to finish off their opponents. Feyenoord posed their first threat of the half with 25 minutes left but it was United who struck and in the end ran out convincing winners.
Rooney sealed his impressive contribution by setting up Mata to at yield material reward for United’s supremacy with 20 minutes left. Ibrahimovic put the result beyond doubt via the inside of Jones’s leg before Lingard, on for Mkhitaryan, wrapped up the scoring. Mourinho will hope this is the start of a winning sequence.
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