Another year for Zlatan: Jose

Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan scoring the third goal against Sunderland with a scorpion kick. The Armenian hailed his strike as the best he had ever scored, epitomising the upturn in form United are enjoying.
Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan scoring the third goal against Sunderland with a scorpion kick. The Armenian hailed his strike as the best he had ever scored, epitomising the upturn in form United are enjoying.PHOTO: REUTERS

United manager hails evergreen Swedish striker while reiterating his title aspirations

MANCHESTER • Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is looking forward to working with Zlatan Ibrahimovic again next season after declaring that the striker's contract extension will be a formality.

Ibrahimovic, 35, arrived from Paris Saint-Germain in July on a one-year deal with an option for a further year, which the Portuguese indicated last month United would look to take up.

After the Swede scored once and made two goals in United's 3-1 Boxing Day Premier League win over Sunderland, Mourinho said the clause had not been activated yet, but would be.

"It is activated in his brain and it is activated also in my decisions and in the owners' and the board's. So it is no problem," said Mourinho.

The striker's goal against Sunderland means he has scored 50 times across all competitions for club and country in 2016, the year he retired from international football.

"I am not really surprised because he is a very intelligent guy and a very proud man," Mourinho added.

HE'S STILL GOT IT

He decided to come to Manchester United and to the Premier League... When he decides to come here, it is because he knows he can do it.

 JOSE MOURINHO, Manchester United manager, on his striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic cutting the mustard at 35 years young.

"He decided to come to Manchester United and to the Premier League, to a club with the level of expectation of Manchester United, in the most difficult league in the world for a striker.

"When he decides to come here, it is because he knows he can do it."

Ibrahimovic set up Daley Blind to put United ahead in the 39th minute, then ran through to score from Paul Pogba's pass, before setting up Henrikh Mkhitaryan for a spectacular "scorpion kick" volley.

The Armenian forward sealed victory at Old Trafford by diving beneath a right-wing cross from Ibrahimovic and flicked the ball past goalkeeper Jordan Pickford with his right heel.

The goal stood despite Mkhitaryan appearing to stray offside, and he later said it was "the best goal I ever scored" and it had been a matter of instinct taking over.

"It's the best goal I ever scored. I was expecting the ball in front of me, but I was already in front, so I got it behind me," he told MUTV.

"So the only thing I could do, it was a chance to hit it with the back-heel. I did it and I succeeded."

The confidence he is displaying on the pitch mirrors that of his team-mates. There is an assuredness about United that was missing in the earlier part of the season.

Mourinho's men have now secured a fourth successive league win, and extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to 11 games.

This time last year, United were coming towards the end of a December that yielded two draws, four defeats, no wins, a premature exit from the Champions League and talk of a manager's resignation.

Mourinho knows he still has a major rebuilding challenge at the club, but does not regret his stance on taking over in the summer that United should aim for this season's title.

"If you remember my words from my first press conference, I was not arrogant. I knew I was being risky with my words when I said, 'I want United to be champions now.'

"But I felt that, no matter what the conditions are at United, you have to say that," the Portuguese said.

Sunderland manager David Moyes, a former United boss, said that he enjoyed his return to Old Trafford despite the defeat.

"When you are in football, what comes around goes around," said the Scot, whose team replied through Fabio Borini's long-range effort in stoppage time.

"I knew that some day I would come up against the Manchester United players or work with some of them.

"I enjoyed coming back. I have always enjoyed coming here. It's a hard place to come, a hard place to get a result, and that showed today."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2016, with the headline 'Another year for Zlatan: Jose'. Print Edition | Subscribe