Sometimes, things just go to plan. Manchester United recorded another win to continue the revival of their once flagging league campaign, with a solid and mostly controlled display against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns on Saturday. Zlatan Ibrahimovic stole the show with a brace, as he continued to shut up his detractors with a fine display leading the line.
It was a display that wasn’t outstanding, but the sort of performance that United put on got the job done on their travels against a team notoriously difficult to break down. Apart from Jesse Lingard wastefully missing a chance, United were efficient when it mattered. The Swede’s early goal set the tone and his goal early into the second half put the game out of reaching distance.
United’s season is finally on the up, and they head into the Christmas period fuller and fuller of confidence…
When Zlatan Is Zlatan, He’s Zlatan
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is simply undeniably good, and his goalscoring talents are almost inevitable. The hitman found the net for the 15th and 16th time this season on Saturday, banging in his 10th goal in 9 games and continuing a rich vein of form. Jose Mourinho knows United are relying on their star man, and he doesn’t care one bit.
“No, I didn’t expect it. I was expecting in the Europa League to give him a different situation but we put ourselves in a difficult situation losing the first match at Feyenoord and then every match became important, including the last one.
“We communicate and exchange ideas about his situation, his feelings and up to now he is feeling great. I am very lucky as he is not just a normal player. He is not a player who plays in a position where he can hide a little bit. He plays with experience. Amazing central defenders can play until they are they are really old but a striker you cannot hide — and he is doing really well.”
Despite doubters saying he wouldn’t make his mark on the Premier League, Ibrahimovic is disproving his critics time and again. He’s on a faster scoring pace than Robin Van Persie’s first season with the club, and it’s the fastest pace since Ruud Van Nistelrooy in 2002. That’s no mean feat.
He caused controversy in the first half when he floored Craig Dawson with a physical challenge that drew the ire of opposing fans. The reality is though, it was a yellow card challenge. Those same people didn’t feel that way when Chris Brunt used significant force to flatten Marcus Rashford on a counter attack, leading with his elbow.
Nevertheless the Swede rolls on. Will he add anymore to his tally on Boxing Day before the end of the year?
The Jones/Rojo Revival Lives On
Nobody would have predicted that both Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo would be finding themselves holding down defensive duties at this stage of the season, let alone forming a defensive partnership that had seen off the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Christian Benteke, Harry Kane and Salomon Rondon to the point where they were in the defenders pockets.
Rojo apart from the controversy around his tackling has been superb, unleashed in his natural central defensive position instead of the left flank he occupied for Louis Van Gaal. Meanwhile Jones has enjoyed a very successful period since returning to the team, and he’s displayed a leadership best illustrated through his handling of the Rojo-Rondon confrontation in the second half yesterday. Meanwhile, his defending on the ball has been excellent:
Phil Jones’ fouls in the Premier League:
0 vs Swansea
0 vs Arsenal
0 vs West Ham
0 vs Everton
0 vs Spurs
0 vs Palace
2 vs West Brom
— Adam Joseph (@AdamJosephSport) December 18, 2016
Chris Smalling is returning to the side, but only Eric Bailly will force his way in. His performances haven’t come close to what Jones and Rojo have produced recently and Bailly is the club’s best central defender. Even now finding his conditioning again, Smalling may be on the outer anyway.
Manchester United’s Top Class Shows Through
For the first time in a long time since the beginning of the ruthless spending undertaken since Sir Alex Ferguson, the players most lavishly bought with the club’s giant money coffers are delivering in all the riht ways. Ibrahimovic is on giant wages, but fans are pinching themselves at the fact he actually arrived on a free transfer.
World record buy Paul Pogba is coming into his own week after week, and demonstrates a class that is unmatched amongst almost any other midfielder in the Premier League. He’s scored more goals for Manchester United for Juventus at this time last season, and the newly utilised 4-3-3 is bringing out even more high quality displays.
Eric Bailly despite his recent injury woes has been a revelation, and players bought under different managers such as the inspirational Ander Herrera, Rojo, Darmian and others are producing the goods when called upon. The Italian is inconsistent, but his confidence is improving.
It’s all coming together for United, and just in time (if a little bit too late yes).
Despite Pre-Match Criticisms, Jose Gets The XI Right
When a selected XI is released on to television and social media, it is immediately picked apart and criticised by disappointed fans, who had envisioned their own ideal team that they would have picked. However it is a needless exercise, and demonstrates the negative nature that can come with social media.
The bold call to select Jesse Lingard in the first XI whilst Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata sat on the bench paid off dividends from the get go as Lingard’s excellent cross made it 1-0 as Ibrahimovic headed home. As mentioned earlier he missed what could have been a crucial chance later in the first half, but it did not cost United today unlike others.
The 4-3-3 is continuing to make selection choices tough up front, and despite the imminent departure of Memphis the return of Henrikh Mkhitaryan from injury will create further competition. For a club starting to thrive and prosper, that’s an excellent problem for Jose Mourinho to have.
Christmas Comes Early For Loyal Away Fans
Though after the whistle, these were the best moments of the entire game:
Wayne Rooney told players to give their shirts to fans. Paul Pogba takes his shirt off and climbs into away end. pic.twitter.com/3zpOyD6Ynt
— Andy Mitten (@AndyMitten) December 17, 2016
Great moment with Pogba and the fans pic.twitter.com/chc3qRcSJy
— Scott Patterson (@R_o_M) December 17, 2016
It was a well earned reward for fans who bellowed so loudly they drowned out the Hawthorns for close to 90 minutes. Jose Mourinho confirmed post match he asked the players to do so, and Wayne Rooney carried out his instructions. Rooney also had a good display, linking play well and providing an assist for Ibrahimovic’s second goal.
To sign off, I’d like to wish everyone reading this, everyone who has read these columns this season and those who have constantly commented (I read them all, but I leave the debating to you!) a Merry Christmas and a thank you for reading. Let’s hope 2017 is a return to the Manchester United we know and love. Enjoy your holidays and come on United!