By Harry Ogilvie
- Jose Mourinho made five changes from the draw against Everton
- Marouane Fellaini captains Manchester United
After a couple of disappointing dull draws with West Brom and Everton, United faced a struggling Sunderland side who looked to be staring down the barrel of relegation.
Sunderland, managed by former United boss, David Moyes have failed to score in their last 9 premier league games after their main striker, Jermaine Defoe’s barren run.
This had a draw written all over it with Defoe probably scoring as well according to many reds on twitter before the game which perhaps wasn’t impossible considering United’s recent form.
But Mourinho’s men aimed to prove these fans wrong and set up with a strong starting XI captained by Marouane Fellaini.
This team included the likes of Ibrahimović and Herrera, two players who could arguably have captained the side in place of the towering Belgian.
However, this didn’t impact the Reds as they strolled to 3-0 win at the a Stadium of Light. The result once again shows how much better United’s away form this season has been.
Manchester United struggled to score in both of their last two homes games at Old Trafford with both Everton and West Brom proving to be very defensively stubborn. United scored one goal across the two games.
That goal came against Everton, after Ashley Williams handled the ball in the box in an attempt to prevent Luke Shaw’s shot from finding the bottom corner. Neil Swarbrick pointed to the spot, then up stepped Zlatan to put the ball into the back of the net on his return from suspension.
This was United’s equaliser after Everton took the lead through Phil Jagielka due to a defensive mix up between De Gea and Rojo.
Pogba Returns To Starting Line-up
Pogba got his first start since his injury before the international break and Mkhitaryan returned to the starting XI after being dropped for the Everton game due to his poor performance against West Brom.
The most surprising part of the line-up was the exclusion of David De Gea.
Romero replaced the Spaniard for his first start in the Premier League this season and earned himself yet another clean sheet. He also made a handful of important saves.
The first half was a competitive affair which saw Sunderland go close before Ibrahimović gave United the lead half an hour into the game with a lovely turn and finish.
Larsson Unlucky To See Red
The game became a heated contest, eventually leading to Sebastian Larsson, Zlatan’s compatriot diving in high on Ander Herrera and being sent off.
It was a questionable decision, with Phil Neville and Jamie Redknapp both saying at half time of the television coverage that a yellow card would have been sufficient but can see why Craig Pawson brandished the red card.
United doubled their lead right at the beginning of the second hand as Mkhitaryan slotted the ball into the bottom right corner with a powerful finish from 15 yards out.
It appeared United were happy with the two goal lead and took their foot off the gas, but it felt as though a third goal was also inevitable as Sunderland pushed forward in search of a goal.
Rashford Ends Drought
The third goal didn’t come until the 89th minute from Marcus Rashford. It was a neat, swift move from United who played some marvellous passing football throughout the game.
It all started with Pogba striding forward and picking out Rashford who played a smart one two with Ibrahimović before driving an accurate low shot into the far corner.
This was a very strong away performance from a United side who had struggled to score in recent games.
Despite Ibrahimović still scoring, we seen the goals shared a little bit more than in previous games with Rashford and Mkhitaryan bagging goals after being criticised for not scoring often enough this season.
United for the first time in recent games appeared to be considerably more clinical. However, it was slightly disappointing that Mourinho didn’t go all out after the Mkhitaryan goal and punish a poor Sunderland side by putting 4 or 5 goals past them.
It was great to see United back to their goal scoring ways and appearing to be much more creative than in the previous two Premier League games.
This sort of performance was needed before an important Europa League quarter-final tie against Anderlecht.
One man who was impressive on his return to the starting line-up was Luke Shaw.
He provided a strong attacking outlet down the left, capable of taking players on and whipping in dangerous crosses. He also showed his defensive capabilities with several tackles and blocks despite picking up a yellow card.
Another impressive performance came from goal scorer, Zlatan Ibrahimović who once again showed why United took the so-called ‘risk’ of signing a 35 year old.
He showed off his unearthly clinical finishing, as well as the creative side of his game when he assisted Rashford for the late third goal.
The Swede capped off his splendid performance by referring to himself as fictional character “Benjamin Button”. He also said “it seems the older I get, the smarter I become”, which is rather difficult to deny in his current vein of form.
Although his performance was not particularly standout, Matteo Damian was defensively solid and let little get past him down the right side.
The difference between today and some of his previous performances in a United shirt was he was playing as a right fullback rather than a left one and this showed in his performance.
He looked far more natural on the right side of defence.
Don’t Cry For Me Argentina
After hearing Mourinho discuss David De Gea’s knock many reds in previous seasons would have worried about his absence from the side even even though he will only be out for a week or so.
However, United now have a second very reliable keeper in Argentine international, Sergio Romero who has put in some magnificent performances when featuring in the domestic and European cups this season.
Even today, despite having little to do, almost everything he did was perfect and once again earned himself a clean sheet. One very strong and noticeable part of his game that deserves to be praised is his distribution.
His ability to pick passes out with kicks from his hand is impressive and is something few premier league goalkeepers can do as effectively.
The 30 year old goalkeeper has only conceded 3 goals in 12 starts and made several astounding and important saves in these games.
The Manager’s View
Mourinho showed his competitive side when he said “We want to fight in the Premier League until it is mathematically impossible.”
“The Premier League we cannot win but Europa League we can” he continued.
This shows he believes in his sides ability to push on through a very busy month and thrive under the pressure of competing in two important competitions.
The 54 year-old then commented on Shaw and explained why he took the Englishman off. He said he was substituted “because of the yellow card and pressure from the crowd. It was good to protect him.”
He proceeded to compliment Shaw when he said “it was also good for him to play one hour with a good solid performance and no mistakes, so I’m really pleased for him.” This shows despite recent public conflict, he still admires the 21 year-olds ability.
The Portuguese tactician also spoke about the reason behind De Gea’s absence from the squad. The United boss said “He has a problem with his hip. When he dives he feels it a bit. It’s good for him to have a rest.”
Looking at the bigger the picture, the match does little for United but it does see them leapfrog Arsenal again and reclaim 5th position with a game in hand on Manchester City and two games in hand on 3rd placed, Liverpool.
However, the performance was far more satisfactory than the previous matches and is good to see before one of our biggest games of the season against Anderlecht on Thursday.
Considering the importance of the Europa League, it is important that United field a strong team and aim to get the tie won as early as possible.
Some reds may argue otherwise, but this tournament is probably our best chance at Champions League football next year.
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