Mourinho on Zlatan’s future, Mkhitaryan wonder goal, Rooney injury

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Jose Mourinho will be a happy man on Boxing Day.

[ RECAP: United win 3-1

His Manchester United side is now just one point off the top four in the Premier League as they continued to gel and look threatening in attack.

Goals from Daley Blind, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a sublime strike from Henrikh Mkhitaryan eased United to a 3-1 victory as Mourinho’s boys have now won four-straight games in the Premier League and have lost just once in their last 10 outings.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Speaking after the game, Mourinho confirmed that there was some bad news as captain Wayne Rooney missed the game through injury and is unlikely to feature against Middlesbrough on Dec. 31 at Old Trafford.

“Let’s see if it is possible. I am not so sure about it,” Mourinho said of Rooney’s injury. “I hope so but I have my doubts. Muscle injury. Deep muscle.”

On the performance itself, United’s manager wasn’t too impressed with the first half display but was pleased with a fourth-straight win.

“I think we did not play well first half. David [Moyes] and Sunderland deserved credit for our bad first half,” Mourinho told Sky Sports. “I wasn’t happy with the way we were playing. We were a bit lucky to be 1-0 in front. In the second half we were strong. The second goal arrived late because we did more than enough to score the second and third goal and kill the game. Three important points. Four matches and 12 points, that’s what we need.”

As for Mkhitaryan, he delivered a moment of sheer genius in the second half as the Armenian playmaker marked his return from injury with a mind-blowing back heel goal at full stretch.

Mourinho was impressed.

“It was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. It was a pity it was the third goal in a game and not a phenomenal goal in a game to win a great match. That would be in Man United history,” Mourinho said. “It is good for him. He was playing really well. He had that injury that stopped his evolution but then he comes back and I think he plays 25 minutes and well and shows that he is ready to be back to the level that himself he creates expectations for all of us because we expect great things.”

With Zlatan playing the ball behind him, Mkhitaryan launched himself towards goal and flicked the ball into the top corner with his back heel. Here’s what he thought about it as he confirmed he has is feeling fit and ready to contribute even more.

“I was expecting the ball in front of me but I was already in front so I go the ball behind me. The only thing I could do was the chance to hit with the back heel. I did. And I succeed,” Mkhitaryan said, modestly.

Mourinho also confirmed that a deal basically been agreed for Ibrahimovic to stay at United for another season (Zlatan’s agent has suggested as much earlier in the day) as the Swedish striker scored eight goals in his last seven PL games and took his tally to 17 goals in 26 games in a United shirt.

“It is activated in his brain and in my decisions and in the owners and the board, no problem,” Mourinho said.

All in all, a very merry Christmas for Mourinho and Co.

“Three trophies and CL”: Mourinho relieved after “most difficult season”

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Don’t try to tell Jose Mourinho that his first season at Manchester United wasn’t a raging success, because all you’d get in return is a simple shake of the head before he walks away.

[ MORE: Pogba, Mkhitaryan fire Man United to Europa League trophy ]

Following Wednesday’s Europa League final victory over Ajax, one which put Man United into next season’s UEFA Champions League, Mourinho was adamant that the club’s 2016-17 season was a success, despite the fact the Red Devils finished sixth in the Premier League.

“Three trophies in one season and the Champions League,” as Mourinho put it, in his “most difficult season as a manager” — quotes from the BBC:

“We totally deserved the win. I am so happy to see the boys with the crutches with the trophy and now I am on holiday. I don’t want to see any international friendlies, I am selfish. I can’t do it.

“For me, enough is enough. It has been a very hard last few months, we were short of numbers.

“Three trophies in one season and the Champions League. I am very happy in my most difficult season as a manager.”

[ WATCH: Pogba gives United an early lead ]

As for his summer shopping list and Wayne Rooney‘s future at the club, well… Mourinho was much clearer about one than the other — quotes from the BBC:

“Ed Woodward has my list, what I want, what I would like for more than two months. So now it’s up to him and the owners. But I don’t care about football for now.

“Wayne Rooney was ready to play, he was a big option. But I didn’t need to attack at 2-0. I told him yesterday that he could be the key man but he can perfectly be here next season. He is a very important player for us. If he stays next season I’d be very happy.”

USMNT’s Gedion Zelalem out 6-9 months with knee injury

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Following much fanfare as he rose through the ranks of Arsenal’s youth academy system, and even more after officially pledging his international allegiance to the U.S., Gedion Zelalem‘s progress stalled a fair bit this season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | U-20 World Cup ]

After failing to force his way onto the fringes of Arsenal’s first team, the 20-year-old was sent out on loan to VVV Venlo, where he made just nine league appearances (one start) in the Dutch second division. Now, with the U.S. U-20 national team at the U-20 World Cup in South Korea, his tournament is over after just 34 minutes.

Zelalen suffered ligament damage to his left knee during the first half of the Americans’ tournament-opening draw with Ecuador. The Washington Post received confirmation on Wednesday, from Zelalem’s family, confirming that he’ll be sidelined for at least six months. An earlier report, from Football.London, pinned the recovery time at up to nine months.

[ MORE: Pogba, Mkhitaryan fire Man United to Europa League trophy ]

“For Gedion, this was his second U-20 World Cup, so his experience was invaluable for us,” said U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos. “His passing ability is second to none in this tournament, and we’ll miss that. He was running the team from his position.

Europa League final: Man United too tough for Ajax, qualify for UCL

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Though it may have required a minor detour in the journey to the intended destination, Jose Mourinho’s first season as Manchester United manager ultimately reached the promised land: qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Once it became clear that Man United’s season was unlikely to result in a top-four finish in the Premier League (they eventually wound up sixth), Mourinho put every Mancunian egg into the Europa League basket, and it paid off on Wednesday, as United topped Ajax, 2-0, in the Europa League final inside the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden.

Paul Pogba put United 1-0 ahead after just 18 minutes (WATCH HERE), benefitting from a wicked deflection off a defender’s shin, and Mourinho’s famously rigid, organized midfield and defensive structure frustrated a young Ajax side (a starting lineup with an average age of just under 23 years old) that reached the final on the back of a free-flowing, attacking tidal wave.

[ WATCH: Pogba gives United an early lead ]

Down just a goal, Ajax needed little more than a moment of brilliance from any number of rising stars sure to fetch massive transfer fees and land big-money contracts elsewhere in Europe, in the not-so-distant future.

That hope lasted less than 180 seconds into the second half, though, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan doubled the lead, thanks to some unbelievably quick reflexes and a tidy overhead kick from three yards out. Ajax would manage just two shots on goal all night (four for United).

Not only did Mourinho deliver Champions League qualification, alongside a European trophy, United also claimed the EFL Cup back in February. With the allure of UCL football next season, expect another busy (and expensive) summer of spending at Old Trafford.

AT THE HALF: Man Utd lead Ajax in UEL final, thanks to Pogba (video)

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After 45 minutes of Wednesday’s Europa League final, between Manchester United and Ajax, in Stockholm, Sweden, Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils have one foot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

After a cagey opening 15 minutes that saw neither side create anything of consequence, Man United pulled ahead on a fair bit of luck in the 18th minute. Paul Pogba received the ball 25 yards from goal, took a touch toward goal and fired a low shot toward goal. Davinson Sanchez did everything he could to get his body in front of the strike, but the ball glanced off his shin, sending it one direction and goalkeeper Andre Onana the other.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Europa League final ] 

Having conceded just eight goals in 14.5 Europa League games thus far this season, would you bet on United conceding an equalizer in the final 45 minutes? Hit the link above to follow along, live.