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Dublin: 10 °C Saturday 25 February, 2017
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Good evening, everybody. Welcome to our coverage of this Europa League first-leg tie from Old Trafford.

Knockout stages of European competition for Manchester United and they’ll be looking to keep their superb home form going against the French side. The biggest storyline is the battle between Paul Pogba and his older brother Florentin, though one suspects it will prove a bit of an anti-climax. Still, we live in hope.

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TEAM NEWS!

Jose Mourinho makes two changes from the side that got the better of Watford in the Premier League clash at the weekend. Sergio Romero replaces David de Gea in goal while Henrikh Mkhitaryan is ill so Marouane Fellaini slots in alongside Ander Herrera with Paul Pogba, in theory, pushed into a more offensive role.

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TEAM NEWS!

St. Etienne are unchanged from their most recent outing – they beat Lorient 4-0 at the weekend which was their biggest win of the campaign. They’re in 5th in the league currently and their leading scorer is Romain Hamouma, who starts up front tonight.

The last time these sides met was in highly unusual circumstances. It was 1977 and everything was a lot different. Manchester United had just sacked Tommy Docherty after it was revealed he’d been having an affair with the wife of the club’s physiotherapist. In came Dave Sexton and he oversaw a European adventure that proved, well, interesting.

Read about it here.

The flares have been set off in the crowd and there’s a decent buzz. By the way, no Luke Shaw in the United squad and that’s surely curtains for his future at the club.

2Mins

Already a brief scare at the back for the guests as a mis-kick results in Martial lurking dangerously. And at the other end, Bailly cheaply gives the ball away and St. Etienne force a corner that they can’t make much from.

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CHANCE! Mourinho has a face like thunder on the bench as United make another error at the back with a mix-up between Herrera and Bailly. Top-scorer Romain Hamouma tries to take it around Romero but the keeper does well not to commit and makes it hard for the striker to get in a shot. Eventually United clear.

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OFFSIDE! It’s a gorgeous move from United but it won’t count. Pogba rakes a cross-field ball to Valencia, who takes it down. Mata makes the run into the channel and Valencia drops it into the Spaniard. The chest down for Fellaini is perfect and the midfielder drives the first-time shot to the net. Delightful! But Mata was offside and play is called back.

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CHANCE! Martial makes a yard as he jinks onto his right-foot and smacks a decent strike towards the far corner. Ruffier gets down and pushes it away.

13Mins

Martial is one of a few United players that will know St. Etienne quite well. Zlatan Ibrahimovic played against them frequently during his time at PSG while Pogba’s links are well-documented too.

16Mins

Well, it’s certainly not the prettiest goal he’s ever going to score but it’s put United in front here. They won a free-kick right on the edge of the area and Ibrahimovic fancied it immediately. He struck it low, towards the near-post. But it was a poor attempt and rattled against a few legs in the defensive wall. Ruffier dived towards the near upright but the deflection completely changed the direction and it rolled over the line on the far side of the goal.

23Mins

After that goal, the game has settled into a pretty inevitable rhythm. St. Etienne, really, aren’t laying a glove on United.

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CHANCE! Pogba plays a clever reverse pass into Mata – he makes that run right across the defence and just isn’t tracked – and his first-time volley is blocked by Ruffier and the keeper dives in to smother the rebound too.

28Mins

There was a brief glimpse of something for the visitors as they play a quick free-kick and Bailly completely switches off. Hamouma races over the top but the ball is just a little too much of a stretch and United get away with it.

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CHANCE! United need to wake up here. Saivet digs out a shot from the edge of the area and it rolls past the upright with Romero concerned enough to dive despairingly towards it.

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CHANCE! And immediately, Martial goes close again at the other end. It’s a terrific, driving run and as he’s closed down in the area he gets the shot away but Ruffier blocks. It ricochets off Ibrahimovic and lofts, agonisingly, over the bar.

36Mins

This is certainly proving a lot more entertaining that anyone probably would’ve imagined. United are very lax at the back and certainly look like they could concede. At the same time, they look capable of getting a second at any moment.

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CHANCE! Bailly has had a torrid first half and he’s beaten again as the low cross comes in from the left. The shot is deflected and Romero gets down to make the save. But they’re carved open so easily once again.

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CHANCE! Bailly is beaten again over the top and Hamouma races clear. The centre-back looks like he just gives up the chase at one stage and, luckily for him, the striker is wasteful on his left boot and blazes the shot wide from the tight angle.

45Mins

Well, that was fun. Lots of chances and genuinely end-to-end at times, but Mourinho will be concerned. United have given up far too many opportunities and with Blind limping heavily at the end of the half, he may be forced into a defensive change. He probably should make two as Bailly has been given the absolute runaround by Hamouma and, if the striker had a little more poise and composure, it could easily have been 1-1.

United have created chances and deserve to have found the net. But they probably equally deserve to have conceded too.

Martial has looked lively but faded as the half progressed and Mata’s runs have caused problems. But they need more control and they’ve ceded far too much space to the French side and allowed them to head to the dressing-room with plenty of confidence.

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SUBSTITUTION! Lingard (on) – Fellaini (off)

Well, there is a change for United at the start of this second-half and the switch will mean Pogba will drop deeper alongside Herrera.

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BOOKING! United break quickly with Lingard, who plays it to Ibrahimovic. His pass to Martial is too heavy but the Frenchman recovers possession only to catch Malcuit with a flailing arm. It’s a proper hit too and the defender leaves the pitch to receive attention. Martial gets a yellow for his troubles.

51Mins

United have had a goal disallowed as Ibrahimovic heads home Valencia’s cross from the right. And as the hosts increase the pressure, there’s been a thumping clash of heads between Smalling and captain Perrin. The latter has come off much worse and is slow to his feet. He looks very groggy as he’s helped off the pitch.

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CHANCE! Martial just races clear and into the penalty area before driving a shot at Ruffier. As United recover the loose ball, the cross is met by Ibrahimovic and his header is tipped out for a corner by the keeper. The home side have taken complete control since the restart and that will please Mourinho.

57Mins

One-way traffic here now and Martial is causing all sorts of problems on the left side. Valencia is pushing incredibly high too and it seems like just a matter of time before the home side get a second.

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BOOKING! Ander Herrera has picked up a yellow for handball and will now miss the second-leg.

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CHANCE! Lovely skill from Pogba to get away from a challenge and he looks to curl the left-footer to the far corner. He doesn’t miss by much. St. Etienne are going to make a change very shortly, but the way…

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SUBSTITUTION! Roux (in) – Jorge Intima (out)

Let’s see how the guests want to try and see out this last 25 minutes. Will they take a 1-0 defeat and try and consolidate? Or will they search for an equaliser?

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BOOKINGS! Pajot gets a yellow for the guests and Lingered quickly follows him into the book.

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OFF THE BAR! Daley Blind whips in a terrific free-kick from the left side and they’re queuing up at the far post for United. Pogba is there but crashes his header off the crossbar and the guests get it clear.

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SUBSTITUTION! Rashford (on) – Mata (off)

A lot more pace on the field now with Lingard and Rashford both introduced. With Martial there too, any tiredness will be keenly felt by the St. Etienne defence.

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BOOKING! Pogba is the latest to get a yellow and the incident is similar to Martial’s earlier as his flailing arm catches a green shirt.

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CHANCE! What a moment for the substitute, Roux! He’s in behind Blind and Pogba and takes the through-ball in his stride. As Romero comes out to smother, he goes for the dink but gets too much on it and it drops onto the roof of the net. A massive opportunity with 15 minutes to go.

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You talk about costly moments and Roux’s miss at one end has been brutally punished at the other. We mentioned Mourinho’s ploy: introduce Lingard and Rashford and let them stretch St. Etienne with their pace and directness. That’s precisely what’s happened. Rashford just leaves a couple of players in his wake as he burrows into the penalty area and whips in a cross-cum-shot. Ruffier gets something on it but it pops straight into the unmarked Ibrahimovic to easily tap home. Game, set, match.

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SUBSTITUTION! Beric (on) – Pogba (off) 

We mentioned pre-game that the Pogba versus Pogba battle would probably be an anti-climax. And that’s how it’s turned out, really.

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SUBSTITUTION! Young (on) – Martial (off) 

There’s a blast from the past. Some rare minutes for Ashley Young. Martial, though he hasn’t scored, was impressive tonight once again.

89Mins

The Swede goes down dramatically in the box after Theopile-Catherine challenges from behind. The referee immediately points to the spot, even though it doesn’t seem like much. There’s really no chance anyone else will take the kick and he sends Ruffier the wrong way before impudently holding his arms out in celebration.

90Mins

17th hat-trick of Ibrahimovic’s career, by the way. A first for United.

90Mins

A much better second-half performance from the home side and credit to Mourinho for getting some more pace up top for United in the form of Lingard and Rashford. The latter was crucial in the second goal which, essentially, was the game-changer as it provided the hosts with much more of a buffer.

The headlines will be dominated by Ibrahimovic, who conjured his first hat-trick in United colours, but the goals certainly won’t make his highlight reel. He didn’t do much, with the exception of finding the net three times! And that’s the very reason United signed him. You’d wonder how they’d fare without his 20+ goals in all competitions this term, not that Mourinho will care. That’s surely the tie decided already and  that’s what he desperately would’ve wanted.

Thanks for staying with us for our coverage. Plenty more reaction on the site through the night.

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