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Manchester United can’t rely on Ibrahimovic forever

Ibrahimovic's winner at Ewood Park was his 24th goal of the season, but are United too reliant on their veteran striker?

There once was a time when Blackburn Rovers could go toe-to-toe with Manchester United, typically for the Premier League title during the mid-1990s.

It’s hard to maintain such dominance for longer than a season, let alone longer than a decade and such was the case with Blackburn, who are now languishing at the wrong end of the Championship in 23rd.

The FA Cup offered a respite to these struggles and Rovers did, in fact, take the lead through Danny Graham. Any optimism was short-lived, however, as Marcus Rashford took the ball round ‘keeper Jason Steele to equalise ten minutes later from Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s pass.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba then came off the bench as Jose Mourinho drew for his big guns and the pair consequently combined for the winner in the 75th minute. Ibrahimovic was allowed too much space in the area to latch on to Pogba’s pass and finish from close range. Manchester United reached the quarter-final of the FA Cup, an away tie to Chelsea, but it raised the question: Are the Red Devils too reliant on Ibrahimovic?

Zlat key man

“I knew the contribution would be massive,” said Mourinho on Ibrahimovic following his winner on Sunday afternoon. The Portuguese boss has just seen his 35-year-old striker notch his 24th goal of the campaign, squashing any lingering thoughts that the veteran couldn’t cut it in the fast-paced nature of the Premier League.

The goal follows a midweek hat-trick in the Europa League and no other player in the United squad are on double figures for the season. He’s scored nearly three times more than United’s second-highest league scorer Juan Mata, who has scored six.

Moreover, Ibrahimovic turns creator, too, when he’s not firing goals into the net, creating 43 chances in the league this campaign (four assists, 39 key passes), only three less than the world-record playmaker Pogba (46- three assists, 43 key passes).

Without Ibrahimovic’s 15 Premier League goals, United would be 11 points worse off, battling it out with West Brom for eighth spot. Only Diego Costa’s goals for Chelsea have been as important.

The match-winner

That match-winning goal saw Ibrahimovic become United’s top scorer in all competitions across the past two seasons, despite only arriving at Old Trafford seven months ago, which goes some way to emphasising his importance to the club. Most importantly, though, that was the Swede’s seventh match-winning goal of the season.

When in need, Mourinho has turned to Ibrahimovic. He’s been their saviour time and time again this season and he’s scored winning goals against Southampton, Crystal Palace and West Brom, plus equalisers against Liverpool and West Ham. He also scored the winner in the Europa League group stage against Zorya Luhansk. In truth, looking all the way back to Ibrahimovic’s 83rd minute winner in the Community Shield against Leicester, it set a precedent for just how important the veteran would become.


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