Zlatan Ibrahimovic's double for Manchester United at West Brom silences talk of fatigue
By Peter Smith
Last Updated: 18/12/16 8:20pm
In the build-up to Manchester United's trip to West Bromwich Albion, boss Jose Mourinho voiced his concern about over-working his star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic - but the Swede is showing no signs of slowing down.
His double at the Hawthorns took his tally to 10 goals in his past nine appearances and suggests that, rather than flagging as the season wears on, the 35-year-old is hitting his stride after struggling in front of goal earlier in the campaign.
Ibrahimovic's scoring streaks - all competitions
Ibrahimovic has played 16 of United's 17 Premier League games this season and only four forwards in the top flight have racked up more minutes.
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But he insisted before kick-off he feels like a 20-year-old and showed his undoubted athleticism by bursting forwards to head in Jesse Lingard's fifth-minute cross and cap a fine United counter-attack.
Most minutes played by Premier League forwards (as of Dec 17)
|Player||Club||Games played||Minutes played||Goals|
|Salomon Rondon||West Brom||17||1445||7|
|Zlatan Ibrahimovic||Man Utd||16||1440||11|
His 88th-minute goals in United's past two away games at Zorya Luhansk and Crystal Palace have been testament to his stamina, too, and he netted another second-half strike to seal maximum points at West Brom on Saturday - albeit thanks to a significant deflection.
Man of the match Ibrahimovic was a problem for the West Brom defence throughout the 90 minutes - and he didn't shy away from physical battle with Tony Pulis' men.
No player on the pitch was involved in more duels (17) and Craig Dawson will be among several Baggies bruised by heavy collisions with the forward.
While his 9.04km covered is a modest total compared to his team-mates, only Ander Herrera and Lingard made more sprints among United players.
Man Utd players - most sprints v West Brom
|Player||No. of sprints|
Mourinho said after the Palace win that Ibrahimovic would not have come to the Premier League if he wanted a "holiday" late in his career - and the forward is putting in the work.
His attitude won praise from his manager in midweek and Marcus Rashford told Sky Sports earlier this month Ibrahimovic's commitment in training sets the standard for the rest of the squad.
"He's looked after his body well since he was a young professional," said the teenager. "That's why he can still play at this age now. It's a small thing and one that a lot of people don't look at but for him to be playing and still competing at that age is amazing."
With United not in action again until Boxing Day, Ibrahimovic - who has featured at some point in all but two of the club's 27 games across all competitions this season - will enjoy a break in the week leading up to Christmas.
But he will have to make the most of it. Mourinho hinted it will be tricky for him to leave out his in-form, influential target man in the coming months. "He is doing phenomenal," said the Portuguese on Friday. "But obviously he cannot play 60 matches. I must give him a rest.
"But as our target striker we can say that he is the only one and, the way we normally play, we need him."
Indeed, Ibrahimovic's total tally of 16 goals in all competitions this season is 11 more than any other United player has managed.
While Mourinho dismissed the suggestion the team were overly reliant on Ibrahimovic to find the net, it is clear that without him they would miss his finishing and link-up play.
Fortunately for Mourinho and United, Ibrahimovic is fighting fit, looking fresh and eager for more game time.