Tuesday 12 December 2017

Ibrahimovic laments 'simple mistakes' despite late equaliser

Zlatan Ibrahimovic stoops to score Manchester United’s equaliser. Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Zlatan Ibrahimovic stoops to score Manchester United’s equaliser. Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Ian Herbert

It is hard to believe as you watched him pump his arms towards the stands to demand more noise, more passion as Old Trafford celebrated his equaliser, but of the men who Jose Mourinho brought to Manchester in the summer, none was accompanied by more shrugs of the shoulders than Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

He was in his mid-30s, he had relentlessly travelled around the great centres of European football - Milan, Barcelona and Paris - signing ever more lucrative contracts. He may have turned down the Chinese Super League but United's £250,000 a week would be an integral part of his pension plan.

When Louis van Gaal began bringing players he had worked with at Ajax to Barcelona in the late 1990s, Mourinho accused him of playing safe. It showed no sense of adventure. "It is like going on holiday with your parents," Mourinho said.

Bringing Zlatan to Old Trafford was Mourinho holidaying with his parents and it has been quite a lark. Just before they faced Liverpool in the most important fixture of the season, Ibrahimovic gave an interview in which he claimed "to have conquered England in three months".

Like most of Ibrahimovic's statements it was a topping of ego and hyperbole layered on a sponge base of truth. His fitness, precision and coolness when it mattered have dragged Manchester United forward. This was his 19th goal of a season that has seen United entrenched in what for Mourinho and Ibrahimovic is the unusual position of sixth place.

At the final whistle, the man himself was more downbeat than he had been before kick-off. "We got one point, we were not at the top of our game," he said. "We made simple mistakes."

More than any other member of the top six, Liverpool under Klopp have perfected the art of winning big. In a table that included just the top six, Liverpool would be runaway leaders with 12 points from six matches. United would be scrapping it out with Arsenal.

Given that they had already lost Sadio Mane to the Africa Cup of Nations, had felt unable to select Joel Matip because of arguments that he should be at the Africa Cup of Nations, lost Nathanial Clyne to injury and had to start Philippe Coutinho on the bench, Jurgen Klopp would have taken a draw.

It was a neat contrast that Liverpool's goalscorer should have been James Milner. Given that he has played for Leeds, Manchester City and Liverpool, Milner is not a man who would naturally endear himself to the Stretford End. They may love him a little less after the penalty that gave Liverpool a point.

The two similarities between Milner and Ibrahimovic is that both men speak Spanish and are teetotal. Milner has played in virtually every position except goalkeeper and centre-forward and he started as left-back here. But Zlatan would have admired Milner's penalty. In terms of commitment and ability they are made of the same flesh. (© Independent News Service)

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp revealed after a typically incendiary end to his side's match at Old Trafford that he squared up to Jose Mourinho because the Portuguese was trying to get his player disciplined.

Klopp, who suggested that Mourinho had failed to extend a welcome in his programme notes, was furious when the United manager tried to influence referee Michael Oliver after Roberto Firmino had retaliated, when Ander Herrera dragged him back from a counter-attack.

"He wanted the minimum of a yellow card, I don't know," Klopp said of Mourinho. "I think the ref whistled before anything else happened. Roberto is a footballer from head to toe and he wanted to stay in the game.

"That was a yellow card for Herrera and nothing else. In the end it was a yellow card for the guy who wanted to play football. It could have been even worse if someone wants to see it again and all that stuff. We (Klopp and Mourinho) could not have the same opinion in this moment."

The blatant foul from Herrera led Firmino to shove Herrera in the chest. Mourinho, whose side had the better chances, claimed that Klopp had accused him of trying to get Firmino sent off. "He thought I was asking for his player to be sent off," the United manager said.

"I wasn't. There was no problem at all. I think the game was correct. I think the players gave everything but in an emotional and professional way so the referee did very well in that part of the game - emotional and in control of good professionals."

Klopp was grinning when he discussed Mourinho's programme notes but there was clearly needle.

"I read the programme notes and it is the first time that there was nothing about 'Welcome to Liverpool' or something like this," he said. "That's the first thing. Then I wanted a coffee and in the can was only tea. It's started already, yeah? It's all OK. It's football and we are ready."

Mourinho did not contest the penalty for handball awarded against Paul Pogba in the first half, though he did insinuate that penalties never go for his team, stating that United had been awarded only "one in 25 games."

Klopp, who declined to get involved in a discussion of whether substitute Wayne Rooney should have been dismissed for a high challenge on James Milner, suggested that it was United getting all the breaks. "A lot of people before the game would have thought we would get a knock (in this game) because United look like a rolling beetle and everything goes in their direction," he said. "We know about our problems and situations so seeing a performance like today was nice.

"In the end period of the game when United started playing long balls - Marouane Fellaini and Zlatan Ibrahimovic - after 80 minutes' high intense football it is really hard. I hoped we would have a bit of luck, unfortunately not but all good.

"It is so intense. They play long balls, it was a wild game. There was a lot of action in the last few minutes. We were here to win the game which is why we are not 100pc satisfied." (© Independent News Service)

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