Saturday 3 December 2016

Ibrahimovic brings X-factor on scoring debut

Jamie Holland

Published 01/08/2016 | 02:30

Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Photo: Henry Browne/Action Images via Reuters
Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Photo: Henry Browne/Action Images via Reuters

It took Zlatan Ibrahimovic all of four minutes to silence the Manchester United supporters who believed that the club had taken a risk in signing the 34-year-old to a contract worth more than £200,000-a-week.

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The striker delighted the expectant Swedish crowd in United's 5-2 victory over Galatasaray when he quickly readjusted his feet to volley home Antonio Valencia's cross, capitalising on his creativity and supreme confidence to reach a ball that was delivered behind him and open his United account, albeit with a mis-hit effort that struck his shin and dug into the turf before beating Fernando Muslera in the Galatasaray goal.

It demonstrated the X-factor that the recently retired Sweden international brings to a squad that desperately lacked the spark it always seemed to contain under Alex Ferguson.

Ibrahimovic carried himself around the pitch like he knew he was the big name on campus, the man everyone had come to watch. Of course they had, given he was playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world in his home country, but the cheers that went up every time he hit the ball only boosted his confidence even more.

Yet despite the ego and everything that goes with being Zlatan, there were signs that even he was trying to impress Jose Mourinho.

Glimpses

It was an impressive display, with Mourinho admitting afterwards that the Swede "showed glimpses of the things he can bring us".

The introduction of Marcus Rashford at half-time sparked United back into life after they had gone behind, with his pace tormenting the Turks' back line to provide opportunities for his team-mates as well as himself.

It was Rashford's break that won the penalty for Wayne Rooney to send United back into the lead, three minutes after he had netted his first to level the scores.

Rashford played off the last defender and, had his timing been better, he may have bagged two goals himself as he was caught offside twice when through on goal in acres of space.

So how do United get the best of them both? It's inconceivable to see Mourinho start without Ibrahimovic at Bournemouth in two weeks' time but sooner of later he see what they can do together.

With Ibrahimovic's ability to do the impossible and Rashford's natural talent, they could prove to be a devastating combination in the Premier League.

The problem is that Rashford's inclusion will come only as the result of dropping either Rooney or Anthony Martial, with the more reasonable decision being to leave out the England and United captain. This simply isn't going to happen, at least not at the start of the season.

With the match against Everton a testimonial for Rooney and the Community Shield the first chance for Mourinho to secure a trophy at his new club, Rashford's unlikely to get the chance to play alongside Ibrahimovic for the moment.

Ibrahimovic spoke glowingly of the potential of his new side, with a nod to the impending arrival of Paul Pogba.

"We have something big going on. It looks very interesting. Let's see if Pogba will also come - then it will be even more interesting.

"My goal felt good - very good. The first half was so-so but the second was good. It was my first game and right now it's important to build up my physique and stamina."

Mourinho declared himself happy with the performance and was pleased to be able to field some of the fringe players linked with a move away from Old Trafford.

"The most important thing was to play, to give minutes to the players," he told MUTV. "They need to play. We lost a week in China [the postponed Manchester derby] and some of the boys who played today, trained for two days. There is not a long time to work, not a long time to change, to implement new ideas, new principles.

"We have a game against Leicester next weekend and we have the Premier League in a couple of weeks. We need time, we don't have time. The only solution is to train hard and to train against opposition like [Galatasaray] is the most important thing.

"I am happy with the intensity of the game, the spirit, I am happy with the atmosphere but we have to work. On Monday we will have a double training session and on Wednesday, we are at Old Trafford for Rooney and for our fans."

Irish Independent

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