Friday 28 April 2017

Ibrahimovic heads late leveller to spare Pogba's blushes

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, right, rescued a point for Manchester United
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, right, rescued a point for Manchester United

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's late header saw a thrilling clash between bitter rivals Manchester United and Liverpool end in a pulsating 1-1 draw.

Unlike October's drab, goalless draw at Anfield, the 50th Premier League meeting of these sides lived up the pre-match hype.

Jurgen Klopp's men looked set to give the hosts a bloody nose after James Milner thumped home a first-half penalty, but United showed impressive resolve and forced a late leveller through Ibrahimovic.

A draw was probably fair given how the match panned out, albeit the result does little to boost either side's title chances.

However, it was a thoroughly entertaining game for the neutrals, many of whom will have had fun with the #Pogba Twitter hashtag advertised around the Old Trafford pitch after world-record signing Paul Pogba handled in the box and Milner smashed home.

The France midfielder's blushes were saved six minutes from time by another big-name summer acquisition as Ibrahimovic directed home Antonio Valencia's cross to snatch a point.

The result ended United's nine-match winning run in all competitions and leaves them sixth, 12 points behind leaders Chelsea.

Liverpool move up to third, but end the weekend seven points off Antonio Conte's men after both league meetings between the north-west rivals ended in draws for the first time since the 1987-88 campaign.

Quite the din welcomed the sides at Old Trafford, but the crackling atmosphere failed to translate on to the field as Liverpool pressed and United patiently tried to unlock the opposition's back line.

Mourinho's side were first to eke out opportunities, with the lively Anthony Martial sending a floated cross to the back post where Ibrahimovic was unable to make a clean connection.

A long ball was the next to pose a problem as Dejan Lovren's sloppy back pass was chased down by Ibrahimovic and Simon Mignolet's clearance ricocheted off the veteran Swede, landing on the roof of the net.

Moments later it was class rather than clumsiness that gave United a chance. Henrikh Mkhitaryan played a fine through-ball to Pogba, who smartly shifted his feet and got away a shot that bobbled wide.

It was a chance that appeared to wake Liverpool up. Trent Alexander-Arnold, the 18-year-old making his first league start, saw a shot blocked before trouble stemming from Phil Jones' poor touch was swept up by Marcos Rojo.

However, the resulting corner brought a threat of its own as Pogba clumsily handled and referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot, from which Milner made no mistake.

United attempted to immediately fight back from the 27th-minute setback, with Ibrahimovic seeing a fizzing free-kick from the edge of the box stopped by Simon Mignolet.

The Belgium goalkeeper denied Mkhitaryan as he raced through with half-time approaching, which Mourinho did not see as he opted for an early exit down the tunnel.

Wayne Rooney replaced Michael Carrick when the teams re-emerged, not that it brought an immediate upturn in fortunes as a curling Divock Origi strike was arcing home until a late block.

At the other end, a slip from Alexander-Arnold almost gifted the home side a way back, with United breaking at speed and Mkhitaryan hitting a cross that just evaded Martial.

Philippe Coutinho replaced Origi as Klopp moved to freshened up his attack for the final 30 minutes - a decision that almost paid dividends within 30 seconds as his flick found compatriot Roberto Firmino.

The Brazilian was denied by David de Gea, who also kept out an Adam Lallana snapshot, before a break in play as Rooney caught Milner's ankle, the United captain somehow escaping a card.

Georginio Wijnaldum failed with a flying header as Liverpool threatened to hurt the hosts again, although United were ratcheting up the pressure and Rooney, unaware offside had been called, forced Mignolet into a smart save.

Liverpool's resolve finally broke with six minutes remaining. Substitute Marouane Fellaini flicked a header against the far post and Valencia powered in a cross that Ibrahimovic directed home off the underside of the bar.

Both sides pushed for a late winner as temperatures rose, with the fourth official coming between Klopp and Mourinho after Firmino and Herrera clashed towards the end.

Press Association

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