UEFA Europa League Round of 32 First Leg
Manchester United vs. Saint-Etienne
Venue: Old Trafford
Kick-off: 20:05 GMT
Date: Thursday, 16 February 2017
Manchester United secured a 3-0 first leg victory over Saint-Etienne in the Europa League Round of 32.
Looking to capitalise on home advantage, United turned to their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic who produced a hat-trick and made it 17 goals in 14 appearances against Thursday night’s opponents.
Old Trafford witnessed the striker score a deflected free-kick which he won, a penalty which he won, and his tap-in sandwiched the two dead ball moments in the second half.
Fresh from his weekend goal, Anthony Martial forced Stephane Ruffier into a parried save early on.
A questionable free-kick was then awarded but Ibrahimovic extended his impressive goal tally against St. Etienne with a fortunate deflection off the wall helping after the Swede’s low strike.
Paul Pogba’s dinked pass then found Juan Mata but the Spaniard’s effort was thwarted by Ruffier.
As Martial had a shot blocked, St Etienne broke at the other end, with Henri Saivet’s attempt dropping just wide.
Reminiscent of Ryan Giggs versus Arsenal, Martial’s mazy dribble led to his shot being saved as Ibrahimovic put the rebound over the bar under pressure, with Saivet firing wide of Sergio Romero’s right-hand post once more.
Afforded too much room to short, Vincent Pajot dragged a shot wide before Eric Bailly expertly blocked from Romain Hamouma.
The striker then blazed over from a promising position and Jordan Veretout’s effort went across goal as the visitors caused all sorts of problems before the break.
After the restart, United’s Pogba fired over, Martial’s run and shot was saved before Ibrahimovic’s header was tipped over in a frantic spell.
A rare sight as Antonio Valencia’s shot deflected behind before Pogba’s delightful turn ended with a left foot shot just falling off target.
It was Pogba who then headed onto the bar from Daley Blind’s free-kick before the two St Etienne substitutes combined as Ole Selnaes pass found Nolan Roux whose close range chip dropped onto the roof of the net.
Yet it was one of United’s alterations that produced the second goal, as Marcus Rashford’s driving run ended with his cross being parried into the path of Ibrahimovic who tapped into an empty net.
Jesse Lingard curled just wide with a first time strike from Valencia’s square pass before the penalty was awarded late on.
Former Cardiff City defender Kevin Theophile-Catherine felled Ibrahimovic, and the latter dispatched his spot-kick by sending Ruffier the wrong way.
This was his 18th career hat-trick and first for United, as Ibrahimovic gave United a healthy cushion ahead of next Wednesday’s second leg in France.
That game kicks off at 5pm UK time but before then is a trip to Ewood to taken on Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup fifth round.
Such fixture takes place at 4:15pm, as Jose Mourinho’s side continue their pursuit on all fronts.
Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailey, Smalling, Blind; Herrera, Fellaini (Lingard 46), Pogba; Mata (Rashford 70), Ibrahimovic, Martial (Young 85).
Subs not used: De Gea, Rojo, Darmian, Schweinsteiger.
Manager: Jose Mourinho
Saint-Etienne: Ruffier; Malcuit, Theophile-Catherine, Perrin, Pogba (Beric 79); Veretout, Pajot (Selnaes 72), Saivet; Jorginho (Roux 65), Hamouma, Monnet-Paquet.
Subs not used: Lacroix, Lemoine, Moulin, Gabriel.
Manager: Christophe Galtier