Thursday 22 August 2019

Ibrahimovic on target as United revival picks up speed

West Brom 0 Manchester United 2

Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates opening the scoring against West Brom at The Hawthorns Photo: PA
Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates opening the scoring against West Brom at The Hawthorns Photo: PA

Stuart James

As Wayne Rooney's wait for the goal that will equal Bobby Charlton's record goes on, Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues to carry the torch for a Manchester United side who are running into form at the right time.

With another two goals, the striker took his tally for the season to 16 - and 10 in his past nine games - to complete a highly satisfactory week for Jose Mourinho and his players.

Manchester United's Matteo Darmian and West Bromwich Albion's Matt Phillips battle for the ball. Photo: PA
Manchester United's Matteo Darmian and West Bromwich Albion's Matt Phillips battle for the ball. Photo: PA

United have won three times in the space of seven days - their first run of that sort in the Premier League since August - and there are clear signs the juggernaut is starting to pick up a little speed. Ibrahimovic is certainly in the groove, playing like a man at the peak of his powers rather than a 35-year-old in the twilight of his career.

His early header set United on their way before anyone had a chance to break sweat and the match was effectively over as a contest when he added a second early in the second half. West Bromwich Albion's self-belief was broken and United were able to cruise to a routine victory that lifts them to within three points of fourth-placed Manchester City, albeit having played a game more.

With home fixtures to come against Sunderland and Middlesbrough, the league table could make for even better reading for United by the time the year comes to a close. West Brom, sitting in seventh, are not in such bad shape themselves, yet everything felt a little flat here after such an impressive run of results.

The match could hardly have got off to a better start for United. There were less than five minutes on the clock when they took the lead with a goal that featured three superb long passes and a textbook header from Ibrahimovic. It was a goal out of nothing and brilliantly executed from start to finish.

West Bromwich Albion's Claudio Yacob challenges Manchester United's Wayne Rooney. Photo: PA
West Bromwich Albion's Claudio Yacob challenges Manchester United's Wayne Rooney. Photo: PA

Switching play from left to right, Paul Pogba sprayed the ball wide to Antonio Valencia, who released Jesse Lingard in behind Allan Nyom, the West Brom left-back, with another fine pass. Breaking down the United right, Lingard struck a bouncing ball on the half-volley, delivering a sublime arching cross perfectly into the path of the unmarked Ibrahimovic, who nodded past Ben Foster with the minimum of fuss from about eight yards.

United were up and running and only the combination of outstanding goalkeeping from Foster and the width of the crossbar denied them a second midway through the first half. Lingard once again was the creator, cutting the ball back for Rooney, who thumped a rising shot from 18 yards that the goalkeeper diverted on to the bar with his fingertips.

West Brom were not rolling over and there were anxious moments for United to endure in the opening 45 minutes, not least when Salomon Rondon squandered the sort of chance he dispatched with such confidence against Swansea on Wednesday, when the Venezuelan scored with a hat-trick of headers.

Matty Phillips's cross from the left was superb but Rondon, who managed to escape the attention of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo, headed wide from only six yards. It was a major let-off for United.

West Bromwich Albion's Chris Brunt and Manchester United's Ander Herrera take each other on for the ball. Photo: PA
West Bromwich Albion's Chris Brunt and Manchester United's Ander Herrera take each other on for the ball. Photo: PA

With Darren Fletcher and Claudio Yacob combative in midfield, West Brom were refusing to make life easy for Mourinho's side.

The home team also carried a predictable threat from set-pieces, with Jonas Olsson a touch unfortunate to see his glancing header from Chris Brunt's corner drift the wrong side of the far upright.

Ibrahimovic then landed a blow of a different kind when he challenged for a ball he had no chance of getting and caught Craig Dawson with his upper arm, sending the right-back crashing to the ground. Anthony Taylor, the referee, showed a yellow card and Ibrahimovic knew he could have no complaints about the punishment.

The game was finely balanced yet United had a golden opportunity to extend their advantage just before the interval. Matteo Darmian slashed wildly at the ball on the edge of the area and it ended up dropping at the feet of Lingard, whose lack of composure let him down as he blazed over.

United did not need to dwell on that moment for long. In the 56th minute they had a second goal and once again it was Ibrahimovic who did the damage. Rooney, deployed wide on the left, fed the United striker, who stepped inside Gareth McAuley far too easily and drilled a low right-footed shot that took a deflection off Dawson before finding the corner of the net.

The game then became a little fractious and threatened to boil over when Rojo and Rondon clashed off the ball. Rondon was playing with fire when he raised his hand, appearing to catch Rojo in the face after seemingly taking unkindly to something that was said, but Taylor opted to give both men a yellow card.Observer

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