Manchester United won their third straight match. The Red Devils defeated West Brom 2-0.
The Guardians Stuart James wrote: As Wayne Rooney’s wait for the goal that will equal Sir Bobby Charlton’s record goes on, Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues to carry the torch for a Manchester United side who are running into form at just the right time.
With another two goals, the Swede took his tally for the season to 16 – and 10 in his last nine games – to complete a highly satisfactory week for José Mourinho and his players.
United have won three times in the space of seven days – their first run of that sort in the Premier League since August – and there are clear signs that the juggernaut is starting to pick up a little speed. Ibrahimovic is certainly in the groove, playing like a man at the peak of his powers rather than a 35-year-old in the twilight of his career.
His early header set United on their way before anyone had a chance to break sweat and the match was effectively over as a contest when Ibrahimovic added a second early in the second half. West Bromwich Albion’s self-belief was broken and United were able to cruise to a routine victory that lifts them to within three points of fourth-placed Manchester City, albeit having played a game more.
With home fixtures to come against Sunderland and Middlesbrough, the league table could make for even better reading for United by the time the year comes to a close. Albion, sitting in seventh place, are not in such bad shape themselves, yet everything felt a little flat here after such an impressive run of results.
The evening could hardly have got off to a better start for United. There were less than five minutes on the clock when they took the lead with a goal that featured three superb long passes and a textbook header from Ibrahimovic. It was a goal out of nothing and brilliantly executed from start to finish.
Switching play from left to right, Paul Pogba sprayed the ball wide to Antonio Valencia, who released Jesse Lingard in behind Allan Nyom, the Albion left-back, with another fine pass. Breaking down the United right, Lingard struck a bouncing ball on the half-volley, delivering a sublime arching cross perfectly into the path of the unmarked Ibrahimovic, who nodded past Ben Foster with the minimum of fuss from about eight yards.
United were up and running and only the combination of some outstanding goalkeeping from Foster and the width of the crossbar denied them a second midway through the first half. Lingard once again was the creator, cutting the ball back for Rooney, who thumped a rising shot from 18 yards that the Albion keeper diverted on to the bar with his fingertips.
Albion, however, were not rolling over and there were a few anxious moments for United to endure in the opening 45 minutes, not least when Salomón Rondón squandered the sort of chance that he dispatched with such confidence against Swansea on Wednesday night, when the Venezuelan scored with a hat-trick of headers. Matty Phillips’s cross from the left was superb but Rondón, who managed to escape the attention of both Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo, profligately headed wide from only six yards. It was a major let-off for United.
With Darren Fletcher and Claudio Yacob combative in midfield, Albion were refusing to make life easy for Mourinho’s side. The home team also carried a predictable threat from set pieces, with Jonas Olsson a touch unfortunate to see his glancing header from Chris Brunt’s corner drift the wrong side of the far upright.
Ibrahimovic then landed a blow of a different kind when he challenged for a ball that he had no chance of getting and caught Craig Dawson with his upper arm, sending the Albion right-back crashing to the ground. Anthony Taylor, the referee, showed a yellow card and Ibrahimovic knew that he could have no complaints.
The game was finely balanced yet United had a golden opportunity to extend their advantage just before the interval. Matteo Darmian slashed wildly at the ball on the edge of the area and it ended up dropping at the feet of Lingard, whose lack of composure let him down as he blazed over.
United, though, did not need to dwell on that moment for long. In the 56th minute they had a second and once again it was Ibrahimovic who did the damage. Rooney, deployed wide on the left, fed the United striker, who stepped inside Gareth McAuley far too easily and drilled a low right-footed shot that took a deflection off Dawson before finding the corner of the net.
The game then became a little fractious and threatened to boil over when Rojo and Rondón clashed off the ball. Rondón was playing with fire when he raised his hand, appearing to catch Rojo in the face after seemingly taking unkindly to something that was said, but Taylor opted to give both men a yellow card.