Sunderland went into the clash bottom of the Premier League table, still needing 10 points to secure their safety while Manchester United hoped to continue a 21-game unbeaten streak. The Black Cats had failed to score a goal in each of their last six games too and it was no different when Jose Mourinho’s side travelled to the Stadium of Light on Sunday.
United’s top four hopes had taken a little dip following disappointing draws against West Brom and Everton but they made sure they stayed in the race with a 3-0 victory over David Moyes’ side. It was a strange starting line-up from Mourinho as Matteo Darmian, Luke Shaw and Sergio Romero all made the cut while David De Gea was forced to sit out with a slight injury.
Marouane Fellaini was named captain in the absence of Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick but Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba were also in the side.
Here are three things we learned about Manchester United during their performance against Sunderland:
United must keep Ibrahimovic next season
It’s stating the obvious but the Swedish striker was the difference yet again. His opening goal in the first half was a display of real quality. He picked his spot perfectly and curled the ball into the bottom corner from outside the box to settle his side’s nerves and put United on the front foot. Just minutes before United had a scare as Jermaine Defoe almost went through on goal and Sunderland had started to look a little brighter.
Ibrahimovic’s tally is now 27 in all competitions this season and without his goals, United would have scored just 27 goals in the Premier League. He has scored crucial goals in at least 10 league matches this season and if he had not been involved, United would have found themselves in 11th position in the league table – 18 points lower than where they are now. He also scored the winning goal in the EFL Cup final victory over Southampton earlier this year.
His future at the club is still yet to be decided but everyone at United will be hoping he’ll make a decision to stay soon. He could be the difference in securing Champions League football this season and if United hope to compete for the league title in 2017-18, it’s crucial he stays.
Romero’s first half save was overlooked
United didn’t have too much to do after Sebastian Larsson was sent off for Sunderland but in the early stages of the first half, Victor Anichebe and Defoe caused United a few problems when they ran off the shoulders of the two centre-backs.
They often found themselves in some promising positions and Romero had to produce a crucial save to deny Anichebe from close ranger shortly after Ibrahimovic had given United a slim lead. The reserve keeper showed composure and strength to block the striker’s chipped effort and Romero ensured his team’s momentum was not disrupted almost immediately after scoring. If Sunderland had been able to equalise, the game could have taken a different turn.
Despite their dominance, United looked culpable through the middle
Understandably, United controlled the game from the first minute and Ibrahimovic’s goal firmly put his side in the driving seat. After Larrson was sent off, it was always going to be a tough task for the bottom-of-the-table side to mount a comeback and they didn’t cause too many problems.
However, there were times in both halves when Defoe and Anichebe were able to run in behind the defence and United didn’t keep the centre of midfield particularly secure. At times, United were a little too open and Sunderland were able to drive the ball up the park with relative ease.
Against more intelligent opposition, United could have been punished but it seemed their complacency did have the potential to cause a few problems. United need to be able to see out games with more authority.