Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s second-half goal was enough to give Manchester United a crucial Europa League victory over Zorya Luhansk on Thursday evening.
The Reds were frustrated for long periods of the game but found the all-important breakthrough 20 minutes from time, as the striker headed home at the back post.
Jose Mourinho had stressed the importance of winning the game in his pre-match press conference, and delivered on his promise to start the Swede, with Paul Pogba, Juan Mata and in-form Marcus Rashford also included in a strong United line-up.
Following last weekend’s dismantling of Leicester City at the Theatre of Dreams, the Reds again played with intent from the off, but it was the Zorya’s Zeljko Ljubenovic who registered the game’s first effort at goal in the fifth minute, a shot well blocked by Eric Bailly.
United were in total control of possession in the opening stages, though a notable chance for Mourinho’s men didn’t arrive until the 20-minute mark, when Ibrahimovic’s deflected effort from the edge of the box looped into the air and narrowly wide.
It was a close call which sparked some life into the Reds, and the deadlock was so nearly broken just moments later, when Pogba glanced Mata’s corner into the path of Rashford, whose powerful strike cannoned back off the underside of the crossbar.
During a half when chances were few and far between, neither side fashioned an opening again until the 38th minute, when Tim Fosu-Mensah regained possession for United on the edge of the Zorya area, but Mata couldn’t direct his header on target from Pogba’s cross.
Five minutes before the break, the Reds then had two half-opportunities in quick succession, as Zorya defender Rafael Forster stabbed the ball just wide of his own goal, before Fellaini’s header bounced up off the turf and over the top.
It meant the sides went in level at the interval, with the game finely poised ahead of an important 45 minutes.