Saturday 20 January 2018

Jose Mourinho was right to slate us, admits Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Ibrahimovic: agrees with the criticism. Photo: Getty Images
Ibrahimovic: agrees with the criticism. Photo: Getty Images

Sam Wallace

Zlatan Ibrahimovic believes Jose Mourinho was right to admonish his attacking players for a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal, but Manchester United's mercurial Swedish striker claimed he was feeling the fatigue of a long season.

The 35-year-old has played in 44 games for United this season and is the team's top goalscorer with 28, but was one of a number who failed to take chances against Anderlecht in the Europa League quarter-final first leg in Brussels on Thursday.

Ibrahimovic will be a key figure at Old Trafford this afternoon when United try to inflict on Chelsea only their fifth defeat of the season, with Antonio Conte's team requiring five more victories to seal the title.

After the draw with Anderlecht, in which the home side equalised in the 87th minute, Mourinho said that United's defensive players had a right to be "upset" with their attacking counterparts. "They have to kill the game and they didn't," he said.

Ibrahimovic was asked afterwards whether Mourinho was right to call out his attacking players publicly. "Absolutely," Ibrahimovic said. "Today I wasn't feeling good in the sense of I was feeling tired. But it is not an excuse because I still have to do much better than I did today. I speak for myself, and [Anderlecht] was not a good performance.

"We have one month to go, it's many games we play. I have been playing almost all the games. But we are still grinding, still pushing, because we have this Europa League and the end of the Premier League. We fight for it."

Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba are United's two highest appearance makers this season with 40 and 42 starts respectively. United have three more outfield players with more than 30 starts - Ander Herrera, Antonio Valencia and Marcos Rojo. Chelsea have six outfield players with 30 or more starts but none more than Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill, who are both on 36.

Ibrahimovic raised the issue of Chelsea's non-participation in Europe. They have played 38 games this season compared with United's 52, including the Community Shield. He said: "I think they are overall a good team. Then of course they are playing once a week, which makes a difference, also because at the end of the season - I don't know how many games we have in total - but I think we have much more than them.

"They haven't been playing in Europe this season and they went out from the League Cup early. But they have a great team, or else they would not be No 1."

He said United's unbeaten league run stretching back to defeat by Chelsea on October 23 is "nothing we focus on. I would prefer to be first in the league and not having this record. It doesn't give us anything, this record."

Shortlisted for the PFA Player of the Year award, Ibrahimovic said that it was not a major factor in his thinking. He did, however, say that Chelsea's N'Golo Kante would be a worthy winner. "It depends how you look at it," he said. "For me, if the collective is good, the individual becomes good. I think whoever wins it deserves to win it."

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