Zlatan Ibrahimovic's double for Manchester United at West Brom silences talk of fatigue

Can Zlatan Ibrahimovic inspire Manchester United in 2016/17?

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

Games Goals
First 5 5
Next 11 1
Last 9 10

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
Jermain Defoe Sunderland 17 1522 8
Diego Costa Chelsea 17 1501 13
Troy Deeney Watford 17 1445 3
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.

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 17:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United (L) and Craig Dawson of West Bromwich Albion (R) clash during the Premier Le
Image: Ibrahimovic didn't shy away from the physical battles at West Brom

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.

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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
Jesse Lingard 81
Ander Herrera 60
Zlatan Ibrahimovic 56
Wayne Rooney 50
Antonio Valencia 46

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.

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West Brom 0-2 Manchester Utd

"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.

Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic (R) gets behind West Bromwich Albion's Northern Irish defender Gareth McAuley to score the opening goal
Image: Ibrahimovic heads in to cap a superb Manchester United counter-attack

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.

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