Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a hat-trick as Manchester United beat St Etienne 3-0 on Thursday to take control of their Europa League last-32 tie. The Swedish forward, who has scored more goals against St Etienne than any other team, enjoyed another profitable evening against the Ligue 1 side, opening the scoring with a deflected free-kick on 15 minutes.
He tapped home his second from close range with 15 minutes to go and sealed his treble - the 17th of his career - from the penalty spot (88) after he was fouled by Kevin Theophile-Catherine.
With all eyes on the Pogba brothers, playing against each other for the first time in competitive football, Ibrahimovic stole the show, taking his record against St Etienne to 17 goals in 14 appearances.
The result puts United in a strong position to advance to the last-16 of the Europa League ahead of the return leg in France next Wednesday.
Eric Bailly’s blind backpass presented an opening to Romain Hamouma but with Sergio Romero out of position the forward failed to find a team-mate. Instead, the hosts took the lead thanks to a huge slice of fortune when Ibrahimovic’s free-kick, awarded for a questionable foul on the Swede, clipped Vincent Pajot in the wall and wrong-footed Stephane Ruffier.
In an open first half the two sides then traded chances as Ruffier, impressive in goal for the visitors, made smart stops from Juan Mata and Anthony Martial.
But St Etienne forced the majority of opportunities as half-time approached, ending the half with 11 shots on goal, the most by an opponent at Old Trafford since Athletic Bilbao had 13 in March 2013.
Despite fading after the break, the visitors had a fantastic chance to equalise before Ibrahimovic’s second.
Ole Selnaes picked out fellow substitute Nolan Roux but the forward could only lift his effort over the bar with Romero to beat.
United swiftly took advantage when Ibrahimovic tapped in from close range after fine work by Marcus Rashford.
And Ibrahimovic sealed his hat-trick from the penalty spot with two minutes to play.
He went to ground under Theophile-Catherine’s soft challenge and picked himself up to send Ruffier the wrong way from 12 yards. It capped an impressive second half by the hosts, who also hit the woodwork through Pogba, setting them up for the second leg in St Etienne next week.
stumble at Gent
Tottenham’s continental struggles continued after they endured a surprise 1-0 first-leg defeat to Gent in the last 32 of the Europa League. After limping out of the Champions League group stage in November, Spurs now have work to do next week at Wembley if they are to avoid an early exit from Europe’s second-tier tournament, too.
Jeremy Perbet scored the winner just before the hour for Gent, who sit a lowly eighth in Belgium’s top tier, to seal a deserved victory against a painfully out-of-sorts Tottenham.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men arrived in Belgium hoping to make amends for Saturday’s damaging defeat to Liverpool but they leave with only more questions surrounding their worrying dip in form.
After winning seven games in a row at the start of the year, Spurs have now managed just two in their last six as they approach a make-or-break period in their season.
Pochettino seemed to recognise as much by picking a near full-strength team, with Christian Eriksen the only key player left on the bench as Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Mousa Dembele and Toby Alderweireld all started.
The Spurs boss had said his players wanted the chance to put right their miserable display at Anfield, but perhaps the idea was also to put this tie to bed with Fulham up next in the FA Cup on Sunday.