West Brom 0 Manchester United 2: They say the old ones are the best and Zlatan Ibrahimovic certainly proves the adage. But he wants to push human boundaries to the limit.
Comparing himself to fine wine, the young-at-heart 35-year-old Manchester United striker said he is convinced he is getting better with age.
Ibrahimovic was certainly at his vintage best against West Bromwich Albion, scoring twice at The Hawthorns and generally appearing head and shoulders above his peers.
And that superiority might help explain why he raised the prospect of emulating the likes of Stanley Matthews by playing beyond hitting the big 5-0 and why it’s not such a daft idea.
“I feel happy, I feel good,” Ibrahimovic said. “Even if I’m 35, in my mind I’m 20. I think I could play also at 50, but it won’t be down to me. The older I get, the better I get, like red wine! You like red wine? I’m a perfect example of that. The older I get, the better I play.”
Ibrahimovic might have been in a playful mood, his tongue may have been planted firmly in cheek but such longevity is not beyond the realms of possibility. The Swede has scored 10 goals since celebrating his last birthday in early October so it’s little wonder he is bullish about his long-term future.
“I’m still settling in,” he added. “I’ve played in different championships, different countries and you need to adapt your body to the game and the way it’s played here. The only thing that surprises me about the Premier League is the game is not controlled by one team - back and front, back and front, and the rhythm is high. I knew about this and I was prepared for it.”
Ibrahimovic is clearly enjoying the physicality of English football and relished leading the line against a Tony Pulis side that had risen to seventh in the Premier League table and prides itself on robust defending.
“It was a good game,” Ibrahimovic said. “We took the three points, even though it was a difficult game, very physical. But in the end, we won and are very happy about that. Every game is hard in the Premier League, not only here. We knew that and we were prepared for it because we are working hard.”
Ibrahimovic put United on course for a fourth successive win by nodding in Jesse Lingard’s brilliant cross in the fifth minute before putting clear water between the two teams in the 56th minute with a deflected shot. United defender Phil Jones hailed Ibrahimovic as the perfect role model.
“He looks after his body, he looks after himself, he’s a true professional and for anyone growing up, looking for how a top professional should behave, he is the ideal player,” Jones said.
“He’s not big-time at all. Maybe people see that from the outside, but we don’t see that at all. He’s a great lad off the pitch and helps the young lads out.
“They look up to him.
“It’s great that he’s scoring so many goals. It’s what we need. Maybe we need some more players to chip in, but he’s doing well for us. Long may it continue.”
Even members of the opposition camp were full of praise for Ibrahimovic, with former United goalkeeper Ben Foster leading the applause.
“How old is he? 35? Jesus… he’s brilliant,” said Foster, 33. “He’s in great shape. He’s a big bloke but carries himself really well.
“He’s mobile as hell as well. You don’t do what he’s done and win what he’s won just by being a big lump. He’s got a few more strings to his bow than that.
“He’s powerful, he can probe with it. Look at the second goal – most players are looking to pass there but he chips it over the defender then just wellies it. Unfortunately, it’s come off Craig (Dawson) but you get what you pay for.”
“I was surprised how direct United were. They’re more than happy to launch the ball forward. But then, they’ve got him up front. He’s really good in the air, he’s got great feet.”
Foster ensured Ibrahimovic dominated the spotlight with a fingertip save that denied Wayne Rooney the goal that would have equalled Bobby Charlton’s club-record tally of 249 goals.
“As we were walking off he said ‘Any chance?’ kind of thing,” Foster said. “He wants that goal. He said against Palace last week the goalie was making worldies.
“Wayne might not have the pace he had five or six years ago but who has? That’s the way it goes. He’d walk into any other team in the league. United are lucky to have him. He’s got bundles of goals in him yet.”
WEST BROM (4-2-3-1):
Foster 7; Dawson 6 (Morrison, 74), McAuley 6, Olsson 6, Nyom 5; Yacob 6, Fletcher 6; Brunt 6, Chadli (Leko, 82) Phillips 6 (Robson-Kanu, 81); Rondon 5.
Subs not used:
Myhill, Gardner, McClean, Galloway.
MAN UNITED (4-3-3):
De Gea 6; Valencia 6, Jones 7, Rojo 6, Darmian 6; Herrera 6 (Smalling, 90+1), Carrick 7 Pogba 8; Lingard 7 (Rashford, 77), Ibrahimovic 9, Rooney 7 (Fellaini, 84).
Subs not used:
Romero, Mata, Martial, Blind.
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