Man U needed a late goal to defeat Blackburn 2-1 to advance to the round of sixteen in the FA Cup.
The Daily Mail: “With an hour gone and Manchester United locked in a fifth-round stalemate with Blackburn Rovers in the Lancashire drizzle, Jose Mourinho turned to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba.
It was a power play. A graphic demonstration of what separates these two clubs in the modern era, 22 years after Blackburn pipped United to the Premier League title.
Mourinho’s collection of substitutes were the most expensive in the history of the FA Cup, a bench worth a total of £192million even when you consider that Ibrahimovic cost nothing.
‘We were rich in solutions,’ admitted Mourinho afterwards, which was an apt choice of words. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luke Shaw and Eric Bailly couldn’t get a game. Juan Mata was held back until the 89th minute.
Ibrahimovic and Pogba would probably have been kept in reserve as well had the occasion not required a little quality to separate the FA Cup holders from the Championship strugglers.
Owen Coyle’s side put up quite a fight and took a deserved early lead through Danny Graham. But a few miles down the M65 from where a fairytale unfolded for little Lincoln City at Turf Moor on Saturday, any hopes of another upset were blown apart by United’s big guns.
Pogba and Ibrahimovic had only been on the pitch for a matter of seconds when the £89m man pulled the ball back for Ander Herrera whose cross to the far post invited a finishing touch into the open goal from the Swede. Ibrahimovic was caught cold and the chance vanished.
But with talent like that in reserve, it was always likely to make a difference and so it proved in the simplest of circumstances in the 76th minute.
A trait of their partnership this season has been Pogba’s ability to pick out Ibrahimovic with passes over the top from midfield, and he did it again here with a 30-yard chip beyond the Blackburn defence.
Ibrahimovic had stayed just onside and even had time to spin full circle as he waited for the ball to bounce before steering it first-time past Jason Steele into the far corner.
It was his 24th goal of a magnificent first season in English football and 18th in the last 20 games. Enough to put United in the quarter-finals again.
‘I knew that he would be a very important player for us,’ said Mourinho. ‘One more goal, one less goal, but I knew the contribution would be massive. People learn how to play together. The connection between quality players any time is a help.’
Mourinho was just relieved that he does not have a replay to shoehorn into an ever-increasing fixture list on that board in his office at Carrington.
United fly to France on Tuesday for the second leg of their Europa League tie against St Etienne before facing Southampton in the EFL Cup final at Wembley on Sunday.
Mourinho was happier with the attitude on Sunday than when his team won in Europe on Thursday night, but the performance was still somewhat lacking.
Blackburn were well worth their opening goal, fashioned by the impressive Marvin Emnes in the 17th minute. The Dutchman made a surging crossfield run before checking inside Marcos Rojo and catching United’s defence flat-footed with a clever reverse pass for Graham.
The 31-year-old striker, now playing for the 13th club of his career, didn’t hesitate as he steered the ball beyond Sergio Romero.
Ewood Park erupted as Graham slid on his knees towards the Riverside Stand in celebration. On the opposite touchline, Mourinho applauded what he later described as a ‘brilliant goal’. It was the first one United had conceded in 471 minutes.
However, Henrikh Mkhitaryan is proving increasingly effective in a No 10 role and it was no surprise that he created United’s equaliser in the 27th minute.