Analysing Zlatan Ibrahimovic's performance for Manchester United at Hull
The unpredictable, world-renown and brilliant talent that is Zlatan Ibrahimovic arrived at Old Trafford with a reputation of flambuoyance and sheer audacity. His arrogant, confident personality quickly winning over fans of his new club, before three goals in his first three competitive games for United showed the football world that there is still life in the old dog yet; the 34-year-old netting a winner in the Community Shield over Leicester City and Wembley, following up with a long-range strike at Bournemouth on the opening weekend of the Premier League season and a Matchday II brace against Southampton at Old Trafford.
As per his incredible ability, he actually went into the match with Hull City at the KCOM Stadium chasing a Premier League record after his three goals in his first two league appearances for United put him two behind former Fulham and Reading striker Pavel Pogrebnyak’s record of five goals in a player’s first three Premier League games. Although the Swede didn’t get the goals to match that accolade this weekend, he offered himself as an immense physical presence in the final third that opened up opportunities for his Manchester United team-mates as they conspired to break down a dogged Hull City defence, with the excellent Curtis Davies at the heart of it.
Ibrahimovic filled out the target man role in the first-half, pushing into the six-yard area often as a target man. But after a headed effort went just over the bar after ten minutes, before his audacious back-heel attempt hit the side-netting, the forward roamed out wide and ran the channels for his team also, hoping to hold up play and come inside with the ball using his strength to lay on opportunities for Wayne Rooney and co behind him, as well as attempting to take the game by the scruff of the neck himself with four efforts on goal.
In’the second half, Ibrahimovic remained more central with substitutes Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford providing more of the threat from further wide to stretch the Hull defence, as Jose Mourinho and Manchester United looked to a more intricate and central orientated game to break through, pushing further and further narrow for a clearer route at Eldin Jakupovic’s goal. Ibrahimovic continued to do his job well by not being dispossessed, and he was also involved by playing a key pass around the area to help create chances, one of which, an effort by Marouane Fellaini, was splendidly saved by Jakupovic at his near post.
Ibrahimovic appeared to have met his match in defence as the brilliant Curtis Davies threw himself at seemingly everything United had to offer, with 16 clearances and five blocks to deny United before Wayne Rooney was able to escape down the left, finding Marcus Rashford from the resulting cross who hit home deep into stoppage time to send the away end and bench at the KCOM Stadium into pandemonium.
Despite therefore not having the opportunities on the ball in the penalty box he is normally used to profiting from, Ibrahimovic’s physical presence was key in keeping Hull’s defence stretched and helped pull Hull’s centre-halves out of position to clear a route for Rashford to race onto Rooney’s ball in.
Zlatan’s physicality and United’s adaptability was what won the game for United, along with the inspired impact of youngster Marcus Rashford, and with Marouane Fellaini set to be out for several weeks with a back injury he sustained in the game, the Red Devils will need to show similar invention and capacity to change their shape and game plan, with a Manchester Derby showdown with City at Old Trafford on the agenda after the international break.
In what may be a more open game, there may be more chances for Zlatan Ibrahimovic to profit in the opposition’s danger area against Manchester City, though when a team sets up to contain and counter against United, the threat of the Swede, although a handful nonetheless, can be stifled in comparison to his potent best, but all it takes is one piece of brilliance and a presence in the penalty area to win a game, and Ibrahimovic’s influence in the final third was yet again vital. If Mourinho’s United are to challenge for the title, he will need to continue his impressive form.
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