Man United end Jose Mourinho's first season on a high, win Europa League
STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- Here are three quick thoughts after Manchester United lifted the Europa League trophy with a 2-0 win over Ajax on Wednesday at the Friends Arena in Stockholm.
1. United end Mourinho's first season on a high note
Manchester United are back to winning European trophies and back in the Champions League. Their 2-0 win over Ajax in the Friends Arena was not without some nervous moments against the young, energetic Dutch side, but as they have often done in the Europa League this season, United found a way to win. "Just enough" could be the title of the club's commemorative DVD if they decide to bring one out.
The first goal, from Paul Pogba, came at a time when Ajax were just starting to settle down. After a neat passing move involving Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata, Marouane Fellaini squared the ball to Pogba, whose shot took a huge deflection off Davinson Sanchez to take it past Andre Onana after 18 minutes. It was the Frenchman's ninth goal of the season and almost worth the £89 million by itself.
It prompted a poor period for United, as they slipped back toward their own goal and invited Ajax to come forward; going into half-time, they were lucky Ajax hadn't found a way to take advantage.
For a brief few minutes, the second half looked like it would start the same way, but after 48 minutes, Juan Mata's corner was headed down by Chris Smalling, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan hooked the ball into the net. The Armenian was having a poor game up to that point, but since winning his place in the team, he has developed a knack for scoring away from home in the Europa League. His goal in the Friends Arena was his fifth, and his sixth in total from 11 games in the competition.
Ajax might have had more than 65 percent of the possession, but Sergio Romero had to make three straightforward saves.
2. Mourinho has work to do
There had been a debate about whether Mourinho's first season at Old Trafford could be marked as a success if they lost the final. But they didn't, and so Mourinho's first year in his new job will be counted as a success. After winning the EFL Cup, the Europa League and taking United back into Champions League, it is hard to argue. He will know, though, that there is work to do.
Mourinho has often given the impression this season that he is doing the best with the players available to him. Some of them will leave, and more of his own signings will arrive, and not until his rebuild is complete will fans be able to properly judge how he's doing.
United have developed a habit of sitting back and inviting pressure, and it was the same for portions of Wednesday's final. But the fans want to see their team on the front foot more often and scoring more goals. It is not just the names in the squad whom Mourinho will have to work on this summer.
3. Ajax will be fine
It was always going to be an uphill battle for Ajax against a far more experienced team. Manager Peter Bosz insisted before the game that his team would not freeze on the big stage, and they didn't. But there were times when they showed their inexperience, often giving the ball away in harmless situations.
The average age of the team was just 22 years and 288 days, only fractionally older than the young United side Mourinho fielded against Crystal Palace at the weekend. Centre-back Matthijs de Ligt, 17, only made his senior debut in September.
Ajax finished a point behind champions Feyenoord in the Eredivisie this season, but if they can keep the bulk of the squad together, at least for the time being, they will win plenty with this group. Before the final, their starting XI had made only 1,405 first-team appearances between them; United's team had more than double that. Ultimately, that's where the game in Stockholm was won and lost.
There will be interest in a lot of their players, including De Ligt, 19-year-old striker Kasper Dolberg and 20-year-old centre-back Sanchez. Chief executive Edwin van der Sar and head of recruitment Marc Overmars face a challenge to see off potential suitors, especially if big offers come in.
It was a surprise to many who follow Ajax that they even made it to Stockholm. It shouldn't be a shock if the players on show in Sweden get to more European finals in the future, though Ajax will, of course, hope it is with them.
Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.