Although the Premier League's not going so smoothly for Manchester United, the Champions League turns out to be not much of a problem at all. Already qualified from Group A, the 2008 winners saw off the threat of Shakhtar Donetsk at Old Trafford, consigning their guests to the Europa League thanks to a rare goal from Phil Jones. It wasn't a vintage display from United -- it barely counts as competent, in truth -- but they wanted to finish top, and they did.
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Shakhtar started out well on top. United were reeling after a pair of 1-0 defeats, and with the visitors needing a victory to ensure that they qualified from the group, the Ukrainians decided to take it to their illustrious hosts. Alex Teixeira had the game's first chance after Taison beat Phil Jones in midfield and then sucked Rio Ferdiand out of position. But his shot -- under severe pressure from Jonny Evans -- flashed just wide of the poist.
Teixiera tested de Gea a little while later after a merry jaunt through the United back line, and it took a superb block from Ferdinand to deny Fred after Rafael lost the ball for no apparent reason in his own half. United seemed powerless to stop the visitors from cutting them apart at will, and it was only poor decision making and weak finishing that stopped them getting a goal in that first half.
Of course, that's true of Manchester United as well.
Although David Moyes' side had a rough start, by the half hour mark they were giving as good as they got, and had several opportunities to go ahead. Unfortunately for the hosts, most of those fell to Ashley Young. The winger managed to miss two gilt-edged chances, placing a simple lob wide of Andriy Pyatov's post after Darijo Srna's error had set him free and then shanking well wide when set up by Adnan Januzaj.
United weren't playing well, but the momentum was in their favour. Minutes after the break, Pyatov was forced to tip a Shinja Kagawa shot wide. It was his first major action of the game, and seemed to denote something of a turning point. After that, the hosts were the major attacking force, and Shakhtar were very much on the back foot.
Sensing blood, Moyes introduced Robin van Persie for Young, and four minutes later United had their opener. Shakhtar rather bizarrely opted to leave Jones unmarked on a corner, and with the ball bobbling through the centre, the big man smashed home a volley on the turn which any striker would have been proud of.
With Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 up against Real Sociedad, the visitors needed a win to qualify. But even at their apogee, Shakhtar looked a little bit short of quality; with their backs against the wall and United buoyed by Jones' goal, they had nothing at all.
Manchester United starting lineup (4-2-3-1): David de Gea; Alexander Buttner, Jonny Evans, Rio Ferdinand, Rafael; Phil Jones, Ryan Giggs (Tom Cleverley 63'); Ashley Young (Robin van Persie 63'), Shinji Kagawa, Adnan Januzaj; Wayne Rooney.
Goals: Jones 67'.
Shakhtar Donetsk starting lineup (4-2-3-1): Andriy Pyatov; Viacheslav Shevchuk, Yaroslav Rakitskiy, Olexandr Kucher, Darijo Srna; Taras Stepaneko, Fred; Taison (Bernard 64'), Alex Teixeira, Doughlas Costa; Luiz Adriano.