This is the weirdest season in Manchester United history. It feels sort of terrible at the moment. Although this is written in the wake of the pleasing catharsis of smashing terrible David Moyes’ terrible Sunderland 3-0, top four seems a mile off and while we must be in with a real shot at the Europa League, there is no guarantee there.
At the same time, Jose Mourinho’s side have already won silverware, and for periods have played the most dynamic, fun football of the post Sir Alex Ferguson era by a mile.
At the heart of all this “well, are we actually any good or not, then?” is Zlatan Ibrahimovic who has missed a load of sitters, but is simultaneously having the best season a United striker has had since Robin van Persie’s 2012/13 goalstravaganza.
Twenty-eight goals and counting in all competitions is an incredible return for the 35-year old. And since watching his goals is so fun, we here at TOP FIVE towers have decided to pick our favourites of the season so far.
Number Five: Header versus Liverpool
Things that are good about this goal:
1. It was against Liverpool.
2. Marouane Fellaini does something really good in the build up, indeed was very unlucky not to score himself.
3. Ibrahimovic’s header which eventually puts the ball in is ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS.
After a fine cross from Wayne Rooney picks out Fellaini, the Belgian’s delicate flick nearly loops the ball over Liverpool’s ‘keeper (not sure who that is, who can keep up with the procession of terrible stoppers they roll out week after week). The ball clips the post but all hope is not lost. Antonio Valencia gambles his way into the box and manages to channel his inner Dimitar Berbatov with a deft flick back onto Ibra’s head.
And what a head it is. In one motion, Zlatan stoops down to where the ball is and flicks his head up with such precision that the ball loops up and over the ‘keeper into the back of the net. The man chipped a ‘keeper with his head. It’s RIDICULOUS.
Number Four: Header versus West Ham
Another brilliant header. This time Paul Pogba floats an absolutely beautiful ball through as Zlatan makes a wonderful run across the box.
The ball is kind of the best thing about the goal, but there’s something mesmerising about the header too. When Ibrahimovic leaves the floor with his jump, the back of his head is still facing the goal. He manages to twist his neck at exactly the right angle to ensure the ball creeps just inside the post. So many other players would have headed that either wide or into the ‘keeper’s grateful arms. Not Ibra though. He found the gap with the kind of kinesiological brilliance only the world’s elite athletes possess.
Number Three: The Free-kick in the EFL Cup Final
Watching this game from the press box, my abiding thought before this goal was “let Pogba take it.”
Not a good abiding thought as Ibrahimovic hit the sweetest free-kick of the season round the wall and into the back of the net. It was against the run of play and it was beautiful. Honourable mention to the winner, as well, particularly Ander Herrera’s assist. But for sheer Zlatan brilliance, it’s the free-kick that makes the list.
Number Two: Blackburn Rovers
More brilliant linking-up with Pogba. Neither the Frenchman nor Ibrahimovic had been included in the starting XI, but when United went behind, Mourinho entered his cheat code into the fourth official’s sub’s board and broad on his two superstars.
They combined magnificently. Pogba’s long, raking pass into the box could hardly have been better weighted. And Ibrahimovic could hardly have better waited. Because he waited, and waited, and waited, seemingly until the chance was gone, but he knew what he was doing. Because at just the right moment he turned and grazed the ball into the far corner. It was a work of art, a display of courage, patience and sagacity, the striker’s craft executed to its highest. It really was quite something.
Number One: Palace away.
When James McArthur scored Crystal Palace’s equalising goal in the 65th minute of the tie at Selhurst Park on 14th of December it felt like United would be stuck in the rut of draws all over again (and indeed they would be again, but not for a while).
Instead, though, guess what? Pogba and Zlatan combined brilliantly to carve out a United winner. I’ve watched this goal loads and I still don’t understand how it went in.
Pogba’s through ball is brilliantly weighted, but he also puts a little no-look run onto it to distract the defenders. That gives Ibrahimovic just enough time to get there, but when he does it is surely too wide? Surely? It is about four yards away from the touchline, wide of the six-yard box. In order to get the right purchase on it, Ibrahimovic throws his whole body to the ground as he wraps his left instep around the ball and guides it home. It is an incredible bit of football, and that is without even mentioning what a perfectly timed run it is. Honestly, watch it again. It’s a genuine wonder goal. When Zlatan blows out his cheeks during the celebration you can understand why. Even he can’t quite believe what he’s just done.
Hopefully between now and the end of the season he will score a few more and United will make the top four or win the Europa League and we can all agree that just about, on balance, it’s been a good season after all.