More Old Trafford gloom for David Moyes but no complaints this time

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mkhitaryan and Daley Blind on scoresheet for Manchester United

Zlatan Ibrahimovic lifts the ball over Jordan Pickford for his team’s second goal at Old Trafford. Photograph: Getty Images

Manchester United 3 Sunderland 1

This was a fine fourth consecutive Premier League victory for Manchester United and a muted return to Old Trafford for David Moyes. Given the 13-point gap to Chelsea, who beat Bournemouth, all José Mourinho’s team can do is keep winning, which they did on Monday admirably.

They dominated the second half and though Moyes would have loved a victory following his sacking by United two years ago he could have no complaints.

United’s crowning moment came on 81 minutes when a composed Zlatan Ibrahimovic registered his 17th goal of outstanding campaign. This caused Mourinho to stand and offer a fixed salute to fans behind his seat in a signal the manager was particularly content.


Better was to come in the finishing stakes as an Ibrahimovic cross was met with a back-flip of a volley from Henrikh Mkhitaryan that send the home crowd into ecstasy.

Mourinho made two changes from the victorious XI at West Bromwich Albion, with Wayne Rooney and Matteo Darmian making way for Juan Mata and Daley Blind. Rooney missed out due to a minor problem he reported during Christmas Day training, Mourinho said before the game. There was also a return for Mkhitaryan, following a foot problem, the Armenian named among the seven replacements.

Moyes switched two of his line-up, too. Adnan Januzaj did not make the 18 and Donald Love dropped to the bench, with Sebastian Larsson and Billy Jones selected.

Moyes’s afternoon began with a hug from United mascot, Fred the Red, before he stood in the technical area. From there he saw his former side put together an early move as Marcos Rojo found Ibrahimovic, but his pass to Jesse Lingard was too heavy.

This suggestion that United were early into their groove proved correct. More smooth passing ensued when Carrick drove the ball to Lingard who laid it off and when possession returned to the former England midfielder his shot was deflected away.

Sunderland’s riposte consisted of a corner from the right that caused a moment’s disarray and a Jermain Defoe break that caused deeper consternation.

This came when a Phil Jones header toward Jordan Pickford’s goal was booted up-field, the striker brought the ball down, then headed towards David De Gea. This came to nothing but Mourinho still yelled at his players for the manner of the move.

Next in this period of Sunderland play came a Patrick van Aanholt free-kick from the right edge of the area. Victor Anchibe charged at Blind who bundled the forward over. Martin Atkinson, the referee, booked the left-back and Van Aanholt’s effort dipped to De Gea’s right and the No1 with a claim as being the division’s best tipped away.

This was now a riveting first half. Mourinho previously said his side do not play in a defensive fashion and the stanza’s open nature illustrated the point.

Antonio Valencia heaved the ball skywards at Mata, who ran into the area. As it dropped to him Lamine Kone barged him aside for what appeared a fair shout for a penalty but Atkinson waved this away. This drove Mourinho nuts but he would have felt deeper dismay if later one of Anchibe and Fabio Borini had managed to beat De Gea from close range. In-between Paul Pogba’s curving 20-yarder was ricocheted onto a post and went for a corner.

The closing 10 minutes featured the Black Cats zipping passes around, Pogba making a 40-yard break with ball glued to toe, and the travelling support in fine voice. There was also a Pogba chest-and-volley that should have been a sixth United strike for the Frenchman and the lead. But this was spooned over.

Blind proved the surprise candidate to show Pogba how to finish. A slick sequence that took in Rojo and Ibrahimovic ended with the Dutchman drilling home for a first of the term. United ended on a high as Ander Herrera, Mata and Ibrahimovic combined for Pogba to go close.

The second half started similarly for Mourinho’s men. Valencia drove along the right and found Ibrahimovic but when he should have turned the ball at Pickford he misdirected.

A couple of minutes later Lingard threaded a pass into Herrera and Sunderland scrambled the ball out for a corner. Then Pogba was next up with a header he put over.

United pressed and pressed for a second. Mata became the latest home player to create when his clever movement put Ibrahimovic through. The Swede took a couple of steps and blasted the ball over, causing Mourinho to hang his head.

On 62 minutes the Portuguese introduced Mkhitaryan for Lingard. There was nearly an instant reward. Mata floated the ball over on a right-left diagonal and the forward dropped a shoulder and let fly a right-footed attempt that was narrowly wide. Next in this seemingly endless chain of United chances, Mkhitaryan slipped in Ibrahimovic and the 35-year-old should have finished rather than hitting Pickford’s legs.

All of this was causing Mourinho to wheel away in disappointment as 1-0 is always a tenuous lead. A Defoe run that Rojo managed to close down and two Sunderland corners hammered this point home.

As the contest entered its final section Mourinho had made a second substitution – Anthony Martial for Mata. It was a surprise Moyes had made none but given United’s grandstand finish little surprised at the result, Fabio Borini’s consolation goal coming at the death.

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