Manchester United 3 Saint Etienne 0: Zlatan Ibrahimovic hat-trick leaves Jose Mourinho's side with one foot in the last-16

Manchester United vs Saint Etienne, Europa League: live score updates
Zlatan Ibrahimovic heads away at Old Trafford Credit: Reuters

If Manchester United are to return to the Champions League next season, and Thursday night's assignment against Saint-Etienne suggested the Europa League may prove as taxing a route to it as the Premier League, they are likely to owe a considerable debt of gratitude to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Ibrahimovic’s hat-trick, his 21st, 22nd and 23rd goals of an impressive debut season in England, put United in firm control of this Round of 32 tie ahead of Wednesday’s second leg in France and once again underlined the 35 year-old’s importance to the club’s hopes this term. No wonder Jose Mourinho has conceded it would be a “disaster” to lose the Swede to injury.

To put his goalscoring exploits into context, no other United player has yet to reach double figures. While Anthony Martial appears to be coming to the boil again and Marcus Rashford came off the substitutes’ bench to set up United’s second goal moments after Nolan Roux, a Saint-Etienne substitute, fluffed a glorious opportunity to equalise, the dependence on Ibrahimovic is clear.

St-Etienne fans make themselves known Credit: AFP

Christophe Galtier, the St Etienne coach, felt Ibrahimovic was lucky to win fouls from which he claimed his first goal with a deflected free-kick and third from the penalty spot, but when the margins are tight the big players make the difference, and so it proved here.

The game was a lot closer than the scoreline suggested and Mourinho was the first to acknowledge that United were as lucky as they were relieved to depart for the interval sporting a 1-0 lead. He had sensed his players were in for a ropey first period judging by the mood in the dressing room and warm-up before kick-off, and while there was a reaction to Mourinho’s half-time rollicking, the Portuguese warned his players that they would have to show much greater focus from the last 16 if the Europa League is to remain a viable alternative route into the Champions League.

“The first half we played so bad and managed to finish it winning 1-0 when we didn’t deserve to,” the United manager said. “It was down to a lack of concentration. I had the feeling immediately in the dressing room – too noisy, too funny, too relaxed. My assistants had the feeling in the warm-up with some of the guys not really focused, not having the right adrenaline in their bodies.

“When you don’t have that concentration it’s hard to recover it and even on the touchline I felt communicating was difficult. We needed half time.”

Saint-Etienne’s side may have consisted of Aston Villa and Newcastle United rejects, a one-time Cardiff City defender, a former Manchester City trainee and Paul Pogba’s little-known older brother, Floretin, but their determination to make their presence felt was as fierce as their raucous fans, who had sent large clouds of smoke billowing around Old Trafford by setting off at least a dozen flares just before kick-off.

Paul and Florentin Pogba faced each other at Old Trafford Credit: PA

Uefa may take a dim view of such behaviour but it certainly helped to create a lively atmosphere.

Romain Hamouma’s eagerness to run at United’s defence asked numerous questions, not least of Antonio Valencia and Eric Bailly. Only a terrific block from Bailly denied Hamouma, who also set up inviting chances for Henri Saviet, on loan from Newcastle, and Kevin Monnet-Paquet that were spurned.

United had taken a rather fortuitous lead. Ibrahimovic drew a soft foul and his resulting free-kick deflected off the foot of Vincent Pajot and wrong-footed goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier, who seemed to take an age to get off the ground as the ball crept over the line.

For all Mourinho’s complaints, United should have added to their lead. Juan Mata’s volley from Pogba’s lovely, floated pass was thwarted by Ruffier.

One player with whom Mourinho could not take umbrage was Martial. One surging run that began inside his own half saw Martial weave past three players before his shot was saved and the rebound, for once, caught Ibrahimovic unawares, the ball bouncing off his left foot and over.

Pogba should have scored when he headed against the crossbar from close range but the same could be said of Roux, who, with just Romero to beat from Ole Selnaes’s pass, clipped his shot over the crossbar in the 74th minute.

A minute later, Ibrahimovic had his second goal and the tie turned on its head. Rashford surged to the bye-line and crossed, Ruffier got a touch to the ball but could only steer it into the path of Ibrahimovic to prod home.

The hat-trick arrived when the Swede collapsed under a weak challenge from Kevin Theophile-Catherine and converted the spot-kick with aplomb.

“This is the decisive moment of the season,” Ibrahimovic said. “In a short time everything can change so it is important to keep working hard, get the wins we need and keep the confidence.”

FULL TIME

Manchester United 3-0 St Etienne 

94 minutes

Decent effort from Pogba: up and over the wall but curled wide. He has been very effective tonight. 

93 minutes

Utd have a free kick just outside St Etienne's penalty area after Ibrahimovic was pulled back. 

92 minutes

St Etienne threaten to pull one back but fine clearances by Bailly and Valencia deny them. 

Four minutes added

Lingard breaks into the box but is denied by Theophile-Catherine. 

89 minutes

St Etienne can feel aggrieved by this scoreline, even though Utd have impressed in the second period. Zlatan's hat trick will not win any prizes for aesthetics but they all count. 

GOAL UNITED

Ibahimovic converts. 

PENALTY UNITED

Ever so soft, but Theophile-Catherine tripped Ibrahimovic.

St Etienne still not registered a shot on target but that doesn't tell the full story

85 minutes

Free kick came to nothing. Ashley Young replaces the impressive Anthony Martial. Much of the home crowd on their feet to applaud him. 

83 minutes

The away side had a free-kick, which struck the arm of Martial in the wall. Thankfully for Utd, it was outside the area. Another free-kick. 

81 minutes

St Etienne wobbling now after such a lively first-half display. They cannot afford to concede another. 

78 minutes

Florentin Pogba is down with cramp. Paul walks over to have a few words with him and they embrace before he is substituted. Corner Utd. 

77 minutes

Lingard curls an effort just wide of the post. Almost tie over. 

Good work from Rashford

Rashford flies past Malcuit like he isn't there. His cut back was aimed at Lingard, but it made its way to Ibrahimovic to score the simplest of goals. 

GOAL UNITED!

Ibrahimovic tap-in doubles Utd's lead. 

 

73 minutes

St Etienne have waited all half for a chance and they have just missed a huge one. Substitute Roux was though in the right side of the penalty area, but Romero did just enough to put him off and his shot looped over. 

71 minutes

Paul Pogba booked for a raised arm to Veretout. A little harsh it must be said. 

United in control in this half

70 minutes

Juan Mata off for Utd. Marcus Rashford on. He and Martial in sequence could be tasty. 

68 minutes

Martial can look unplayable when in full flight. Wins a free kick that Blind puts straight on the head of Paul Pogba. Free header crashes against the bar. Should have scored. 

67 minutes

Lingard booked for a late challenge on Perrin. Utd have nullified the visitor's attacking threat to almost nothing in this second half. Martial exchanges passes with Lingard but his shot is blocked. 

65 minutes

Pajot picks up a booking. Jorgino is replaced by Roux as St Etienne side look for that all important away goal. 

62 minutes

They almost had something to shout about there. Paul curled a fine effort just wide. 

60 minutes

Better from Bailly to step up and dispossess Hamouma. The Pogbas in the directors' box are wearing half-and-half shirts. Would normally be categorised as a crime against humanity, but perhaps permissible on this occasion. 

The Pogba family's split loyalties

 

Since the dawn of time, Man Utd cross the ball

57 minutes

Ander Herrera picks up a booking which rules him out of the second leg. 

56 minutes

Lots has been written about Martial's future at Utd but he looks close to his best form here. He is so good at stopping and starting his opposite number: too many pacy forwards just run at full pelt from the off. 

55 minutes 

United haven't conceded any counter-attacks so far in this half which will please Mourinho. 

53 minutes

Fine save by Ruffier. Martial has Malcuit in a twist, and beats him on the outside. The goakeeper did well to stand up and block his shot, but in truth it was straight at him. 

52 minutes 

Perrin is back on the pitch I'm pleased to report. Paul Pogba blazes a shot high, wide and handsome with his weaker right foot. 

St Etienne have threatened in the left channel 

50 minutes

We could be in for a stoppage here after a clash of heads between fellow centre backs Smalling and Perrin. Smalling is up and moving, but Perrin still down. 

49 minutes

Utd goal disallowed. Mata swings in a lovely cross from the right but Ibrahimovic was offside. 

47 minutes

Ibrahimovic on the move early in this second half, and slips in Martial. The former Monaco forward caught Malcuit with an arm as he tried to shake the full back off and is booked. The fact it was his arm rather than elbow meant he was spared further punishment. 

We're off

The away side get us underway. Utd kicking towards the Stretford End in the second half as per. 

More of the same please

We spend far too much time fretting about what the 'neutrals' think, because frankly who cares, but they would have enjoyed that first half at Old Trafford. St Etienne have looked pacy in wide areas, and United's centre back pairing of Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly looks like one that hasn't played too many games together. 

The big positive for Mourinho is Paul Pogba's performance, who is showing he can be trusted without the reassuring presence of Michael Carrick behind him. 

Half-time change for Utd: Jesse Lingard on for Fellaini. 

Shots on goal (St Etienne taken lots of shots from distance)

 

Possession

Last-third touches very even

HALF TIME

Manchester United 1-0 St Etienne 

An absorbing 45 minutes of football. 

45 minutes

St Etienne finishing this half so strongly. Jorginho skips past Martial, his cross went all the way through to Hamouma outside the area but his shot flew well over. 

43 minutes

Veretout, who looked painfully average for Aston Villa, fires a shot across the face of goal. He has been looked useful tonight: proof that it can be bad idea to judge individuals in failing collectives. 

St Etienne have had plenty of shots, but lacked accuracy

40 minutes

St Etienne causing so many problems down their left. This time Hamouma spins into the channel and Monnet-Pacquet goes into a central position. The latter's effort from six yards out is blocked and Romero gathered. Could easily be 2-2 this game. 

39 minutes

Veretout's cross found Hamouma who tired to swivel and volley at goal, but Bailly did very well to block. Good recovery, though it was the defender's giveaway that led to the chance in the first place. 

37 minutes

Running in behind is not a quality you associate with Juan Mata but he is doing plenty of it tonight. The atmosphere in the return leg could be vociferous if St Etienne's away support is anything to go by. 

35 minutes

Hamouma allowed to carry the ball a bit too close to Utd's penalty area for comfort. Bailly looks like he needs this game, nowhere near the assured presence of earlier in the season. 

33 minutes

Pogba's brother Florentin leaves Ibrahimovic on his backside after a nice shimmy, much to the away fans' delight. 

Pogba generally staying behind the play

31 minutes

Martial slaloms through the St Etienne defence but Ruffier does well to save with an outstretched left leg. Surely more goals to come.

29 minutes

Martial drives into the box but tremendous block by Pajot. The away side break down the left from Hamouma, who fins Saivet around the edge of the penalty area. Side-footed attempt drifts wide. 

27 minutes

Utd's problems in this game coming from giving the ball away cheaply in their own half. They are finding time and space to play forward in midfield however. 

Possession

24 minutes

The visitors have come here to play, but you sense they are not the most sure-footed defensively. Pogba picks out a lovely chipped through ball to Mata. Ruffier saves his scissored attempt and did well to smother the rebound. 

22 minutes

Pogba excelling in a quarter-back role tonight, which is impressive given he has spent most of the season in a more advanced berth. Corner Utd. 

19 minutes

Huge penalty shout for St Etienne. Jorginho tried to dribble past Daley Blind who dispossessed him momentarily. The winger got a foot in however and it looked as though Blind stuck out his trailing leg to deny him a clear route to goal. Not enough contact. 

18 minutes

St Etienne had made a decent start here, they just need to keep this scoreline as it is for the next 10 minutes or so. 

Fortuitous goal and questions asked of goalkeeper

Ibrahimovic tried to side-foot the free kick under the wall and it deflected past the despairing Ruffier, who had already dived and couldn't get off his back side in time. Pajot wasn't the bravest in the wall, either. 

GOAL UNITED!

Ibrahimovic's deflected free kick gives the hosts the lead. 

 

14 minutes

Ibrahimovic is felled, though he made the most of it. That's putting it mildly: a complete dive. Utd have a free kick about four yards outside the box left of centre. 

12 minutes

This could easily pass for a Champions League game such is the intensity. Ibrahimovic has 14 goals in 13 games against tonight's opponents. 

Sea of green

St Etienne fans at Old Trafford Credit: AFP

 

9 minutes

More fine play from St Etienne after a slide rule pass for Jordan Veretout. Utd break and Martial stings the palms of Ruffier with a side-footed effort from the left channel. 

8 minutes

United start to enjoy some controlled possession after a hectic start. Nice move involving Pogba, Valencia and Mata but the Spaniard was flagged offside. His lay off found Fellaini who drilled the ball home after the whistle had gone. 

5 minutes

Much better atmosphere than a typical Europa League tie, and the travelling supporters can take credit for that. Paul Pogba is playing a little deeper than his usual role, much like the one he played in the Euros. You may remember he was less than impressive. 

3 minutes

Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly almost gift the French side a perfect start. Romero rushed out his goal to deny Paquet after the two centre backs played 'after you Claude' with a simple long ball. Bailly eventually played the ball but under hit the backpass. Mourinho gives them a thousand-yard stare. 

2 minutes

The Old Trafford air is thick with smoke after some pyrotechnics in the away end. The travelling supporters will be cheered by a Monnet-Paquet venture down the left. They win a corner but Utd deal with it. 

We're off 

United are kicking from left to right in this half and it is they who get us underway. 

Teams in the tunnel

Arsenal and Tottenham, two representatives of the Best League in the World, have lost in Europe already this week. Can Man Utd do any better? You would hope so at home to St Etienne. 

The Pogba brothers stride out side by side as the teams make their way onto the pitch. Old Trafford looks close to capacity. 

TEAM NEWS

Man Utd: Romero, Valencia, Smalling, Bailly, Blind, Mata,  Ander Herrera, Fellaini, Martial, Pogba, Ibrahimovic. Subs:  de Gea, Rojo, Lingard, Young, Rashford, Schweinsteiger, Darmian. 

St Etienne: Ruffier, Malcuit, Perrin, Theophile-Catherine,  Pogba, Jorginho, Veretout, Pajot, Monnet-Paquet, Saivet,  Hamouma.
Subs: Moulin, Lacroix, Roux, Selnaes, Lemoine, Beric,  Pierre Gabriel. 

Referee: Pavel Kralovec (Czech Republic)

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