Like a fine wine, Zlatan Ibrahimovic gets better with age.
The charismatic Swede put Saint-Etienne to the sword on Thursday night in Manchester United’s Europa League last-32 tie at Old Trafford, as he claimed the 17th hat-trick of what has been an illustrious and impressive career.
There were doubts raised when Jose Mourinho secured the signing of Ibrahimovic in the summer after the striker’s contract with Paris St-Germain had expired but the 35-year-old has demonstrated that age is no barrier when you are blessed with an abundance of natural ability.
On Thursday, he claimed his 21st, 22nd and 23rd goals as a Manchester United player and continues to be the one club’s most constant performers in a season that could still see them complete an unlikely quadruple.
It was little surprise to see Ibrahimovic get on the score sheet against Saint-Etienne. The Swede has now scored 17 times against the French club in his career and you would imagine that Les Verts supporters cannot wait to see the forward retire.
There was a certain degree of luck with his first strike, a deflected free-kick that wrong footed the goalkeeper and dribbled over the line, but the 35-year-old made no mistake from close range when he converted Marcus Rashford’s cross and then a penalty during the second half.
The striker continues to rack up the goals both domestically and in Europe but his all-round hold-up and link-up play makes him central to this current United side.
Ibrahimovic now has 23 goals to his name in his debut campaign in English football and there can be little doubt that his signing has been stroke of genius by Mourinho. The striker is the club’s top scorer and to provide some context for his exploits in front of goal no other United player has yet to hit double figures this season. With a third of the season still left to play, do not be surprised if the Swede breaks through the 30-goal limit.
Manchester United have never won the Europa League but winning this competition may provide them with a route into next season’s Champions League if they fail to break into the top-four this campaign. Mourinho’s side are still fighting on four fronts, although the Premier League is surely beyond them at this stage, but could potentially end the season with a domestic and European cup treble having already progressed in both the League and FC Cup.
Surprisingly, Ibrahimovic has never been part of a team that has been crowned champions of a major European competition and you would imagine that he would not turn down the opportunity to break that record with United this season. The 35-year-old has experienced a remarkable career that has seen him win 11 league titles in four different countries and a Europa League winners medal would be another feather in the Swede’s cap.
United supporters will certainly be hoping that Ibrahimovic can stay fit and maintain his current form in front of goal for the remainder of the campaign. If he does, silverware will almost certainly follow.
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