Manchester United won their third match in a row a 4-1 win over Sunderland on Boxing Day.
The Guardians Jamie Jackson wrote: “This was a fine fourth consecutive Premier League victory for Manchester United and a muted return to Old Trafford for David Moyes. Given the 13-point gap to Chelsea, who beat Bournemouth, all José Mourinho’s team can do is keep winning, which on Monday they did admirably.
The United manager said: “I don’t care, honestly. I care about the way we play and I care about our results and to get the maximum points possible and what happens, happens. Last week, Man City against Arsenal, somebody has to lose points and more of those matches will come. We are playing well, we are more confident. The aim is to keep the run going. But it will be a difficult one on Saturday. Middlesbrough lost today against Burnley but they will come here to try.”
United dominated the second half and though Moyes would have loved a victory against the club who sacked him two years ago he could have no complaints. He said: “We gave away a dreadful second goal and the third was offside. We hung in. We sort of stifled them, stuck at it and said if we could hold it at 1-0, they might get nervous in the last 10 minutes but we couldn’t do it.”
United’s crowning moment came after 81 minutes when Didier N’Dong ceded possession and a composed Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored his 17th goal of the season and his 50th of 2016. This caused Mourinho to stand and offer a salute to fans behind his seat in a signal of particular contentment. Of the Swedish striker’s one-year extension clause in his contract, Mourinho said: “Not yet is it activated but it is activated in his brain and in my decisions and the owners and the board’s.”
Better was to come in the finishing stakes as an Ibrahimovic cross was met with a sublime back-flip volley from Henrikh Mkhitaryan that sent the home crowd into ecstasy. The Armenian was marginally offside but he hardly cared.
“It’s the best goal I ever scored. I’m very excited,” Mkhitaryan said. “I had a great feeling. I saw that it wasn’t offside and I started to celebrate. I got the ball behind me so the only thing I could do was to hit it with the back heel. I did and I succeeded.”
Mourinho made two changes from the victorious XI at West Brom, with Wayne Rooney and Matteo Darmian making way for Juan Mata and Daley Blind. Rooney missed out because of a minor problem he reported during Christmas Day training. Of the captain being available for the Middlesbrough game on New Year’s Eve, Mourinho said: “I don’t think so. I hope so. He is always a player I would like. It is a strained muscle.”
Donald Love dropped to the bench for Sunderland and the United loanee Adnan Januzaj was ineligible, so Sebastian Larsson and Billy Jones were in the starting line-up.
Moyes’s afternoon began with a hug from the home mascot, Fred the Red, before he stood in the technical area where he saw his former side put together a first move as Marcos Rojo found Ibrahimovic, but his pass to Jesse Lingard was too heavy. This suggested United were in the groove. More smooth passing ensued when Michael Carrick drove the ball to Lingard who laid it off and when possession returned to the former England midfielder his shot was deflected away.
Sunderland’s riposte consisted of a corner from the right that caused a moment’s disarray and a Jermain Defoe break that caused deeper consternation. This came after a Phil Jones header towards Jordan Pickford’s goal was cleared upfield. The striker brought the ball down and ran towards David de Gea, but although it came to nothing Mourinho was still upset enough at the manner of the move to yell at his players.
Next Victor Anichebe charged at Blind who bundled the forward over. Martin Atkinson, the referee, booked the left‑back. From the free-kick Patrick van Aanholt’s effort dipped to De Gea’s right and the goalkeeper tipped away.
This was now a riveting first half. Antonio Valencia heaved the ball skywards at Mata, who ran into the area. As it dropped Lamine Koné barged him aside for what appeared a fair shout for a penalty but Atkinson waved the appeals away which upset Mourinho.
Blind was the surprise opening scorer. A slick sequence of passing that involved Rojo and Ibrahimovic ended with the Dutchman drilling home a first goal of the season.
United set the tone for the second half when Valencia drove along the right and found Ibrahimovic but he misdirected his effort. Minutes later Lingard threaded a pass to Ander Herrera and Sunderland scrambled the ball out for a corner.
United pressed and pressed for a second. Mata put Ibrahimovic through but the Swede blasted over, causing Mourinho to hang his head. After 62 minutes United’s manager introduced Mkhitaryan for Lingard with nearly an instant reward. Mata floated the ball over from the right and the forward dropped a shoulder and sent a right-footed attempt narrowly wide. Next in a series of United chances, Mkhitaryan slipped in Ibrahimovic but he only managed to hit Pickford’s legs.
As the contest entered its final stages Mourinho had made a second substitution – Anthony Martial for Mata. It was a surprise Moyes had made none until the 83rd minute. There might have been
some consolation for him when Fabio Borini struck right at the end, but it would have been negligible.