Zlatan the villain but where are all of Man Utd’s other heroes?
Ibrahimovic should have been sent off for his elbow on Tyrone Mings, and his all-round poor showing was magnified by a lack of winners elsewhere
A succession of flashpoints, a red card, two penalties, countless other incidents of note, but ultimately just one point. The 1-1 draw with Bournemouth on Saturday was the latest match in which Manchester United found a way of throwing away points at home to undermine their chase for a top-four spot.
And while Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be the man in the headlines, the need for somebody else to occasionally step up and bail United out has never been better exemplified than in the absorbing 90 minutes against Eddie Howe’s side at Old Trafford.
It really was a game which had everything. From the early moments United dominated but it took defender Marcos Rojo’s first Premier League goal to break the deadlock, then a poor piece of defending by Phil Jones saw him pull down Marc Pugh to concede a penalty which Josh King converted from the spot. But that was only the beginning of the madness.
Ibrahimovic’s decision to dramatically throw Tyrone Mings to the ground in back-play and Mings’ pre-meditated stamp on the Swede’s head led to the game’s most dramatic flashpoint. From a left-wing cross just before half-time Ibra threw an elbow at Mings’ head, with his clenched fist proof of his desire to pack some power in the direction of the Bournemouth defender’s face.
In the melee which ensued, referee Kevin Friend refused to send off Ibrahimovic for a second yellow card and also left Mings to fight another day but instead red-carded Andrew Surman for his push on Ibra, which was his second bookable offence.
Fast-forward to the second half with Ibrahimovic having a penalty saved by Artur Boruc, Bournemouth throwing men in the path of countless United attacks, Anthony Martial almost gifting Harry Arter an injury-time winner, Paul Pogba falling over himself twice when shaping to shoot and Friend seemingly being shell-shocked every time he had a decision to make, and a chaotic, baffling match for the ages was just about complete.
But when the dust has settled and United wait on a decision as to whether they will be without their 26-goal front man for three games, many questions will be asked regarding the willingness or ability of many of this squad to stand up and be counted when the Swede has an off day.
So often has he been the hero this term, most recently in Sunday’s EFL Cup final win at Wembley against Southampton, but United actually seem short of ideas when he is unable to provide the telling moments in a game. Not only did he miss a penalty and get himself into disciplinary hot water but he also had a bit of an anonymous afternoon in general play.
When he came out for the second half he carried the air of a man who wanted to keep a low profile, but that left United looking elsewhere for a go-to guy and in truth nobody was up for it. Wayne Rooney, Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard … this is a side not short on big names but here they were lacking big characters.
If Ibrahimovic is indeed missing for the FA Cup quarter-final trip to Chelsea and the league clashes with Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion which follow, somebody will have to step forward and take on the responsibility. It can’t always be Zlatan who does the job.
Their seemingly unending spell in sixth place of the Premier League table continues, and until Jose Mourinho finds another bona fide match-winner in this squad it is probably where they belong.
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