Two wins in a row in the Premier League and a late goal to seal the three points. It was one of those nights in London as a late Zlatan Ibrahimovic winner meant Manchester United got the job done away from home, after James McArthur had cancelled out Paul Pogba’s controversial opener with a great team move by Crystal Palace.
It looked like it was going to be more of the same for United, as they struggled to break down the hosts for most of the game. Nevertheless the Swede found the net yet again, putting away his 14th strike of the season.
United face an in-form West Bromwich Albion next, sitting three points behind Tottenham, six points behind fourth placed Manchester City and seven behind second and third placed Liverpool and Arsenal. The toughest lays ahead, but it’s not over yet.
Officiating Sours The Evening (Again)
Craig Pawson became the latest official to put in a terrible Premier League display with more than a couple of questionable decisions or lack there of. Both teams were heavily affected by the action taken or ignored by Pawson, as it became the latest in a string of controversies surrounding Manchester United.
Marcos Rojo put in another two footed tackle that Wilfried Zaha managed to mostly dodge, before Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s handball led to Pogba’s offside goal, Joe Ledley practically punched the ball away from Rojo’s head at a corner before Juan Mata had an onside goal disallowed.
Any decisions made or not made vastly affected the outcome of the game, and questions have to continue to be asked (or screamed at this point) how long the archaic thinking regarding the rejection of video technology can be ignored.
Pogba’s Creation Becomes Production
Paul Pogba was man of the match on Wednesday evening, providing the opening goal and the assist for Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s winner. His passing was sometimes wayward, but some of the balls he played through or over the top for his attackers were a joy.
Unfortunately he picked up another booking, this time for dissent which Mourinho commented on post-match.
“In football, sometimes the referee makes mistakes, but you have to carry on playing, you know.”
He was arguably unlucky to get another assist with the ball played for Rooney whilst Michael Carrick played a ball over for him when Wayne Hennessey did well to parry when Pogba struck a well timed volley, and his United career is picking up serious momentum. His creation of chances is starting to result in production, and his numbers are starting to reflect his importance and contribution to the Red Devils.
Carrick Continues To Be Vital
Michael Carrick is nearing retirement, but he remains vital to the cause. United continue to be better for his presence, and though they have survived without him their record with him in the team is sensational. His replacement long-term needs to become a priority, as their reliance on what he brings is increasingly obvious.
Whilst completing more passes than any other player, keeping play ticking over, he also made a crucial touch on a Crystal Palace counter-attack to stop it in it’s tracks.
His rotation in and out of the team will remain necessary, but his growing understanding in a three man midfield with Ander Herrera and Pogba is an important part of United’s improved play. He’s had a recent issue with soft tissue injuries, and fans will be hoping he can keep them at bay whilst his Manchester United career draws to a close.
Zlatan Keeps On Scoring
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has done well to talk down his critics, with 8 goals in 8 matches and 14 overall. At age 35 in the Premier League, that is truly astonishing and the pace he’s currently on is incredible, per ESPN’s Gab Marcotti:
Ibra on pace to score 21 league goals this season. Other than PSG, he’s done better than that just twice in his career. And he’s 35.
— Gabriele Marcotti (@Marcotti) December 14, 2016
His chance conversion is improving, and there’s no doubting that Ibrahimovic puts himself in scoring positions. With Pogba, Juan Mata, Ander Herrera and the soon to return Henrikh Mkhitaryan creating chances for him, it’ll likely continue.
“I knew the character because at this age it is the passion, the personality that plays,” Mourinho said. “The quality is there, I knew he could do well here. I told him that England is not the best for holidays, you come here for the most difficult league in the world, his decision to come here was based on that. His motivation, his goals, he is really good.”
A Potentially Vital Three Points
The value of the win to the players was obvious at the final whistle, the sheer passion of winning such a pivotal game was clear to see after the final whistle.
Clear to see how much the three points meant tonight ?? pic.twitter.com/hSD5zCiEnQ
— Scott Patterson (@R_o_M) December 14, 2016
It seems as if the players are coming together despite the adversity facing them, and there appears to be a good understanding, bond and sense of cohesion amongst the playing group.
This could be huge for them going forward, if they can sustain this momentum it could shape the direction of their season. A trip to the Hawthorns await in the late game on Saturday, and if United can win they’ll be returning to the right path ahead of the New Year.