Manchester United need to keep Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Liverpool pass test and Dele Alli comes of age

Jack Austin
The Independent
Ibrahimovic opened the scoring on an easy day for United: Getty
Ibrahimovic opened the scoring on an easy day for United: Getty

United need Zlatan more than Zlatan needs United

He saved United in midweek with a last-gasp penalty against Everton and was the man to break the deadlock against Sunderland as it threatened to be yet another ‘one of those days’ for Jose Mourinho’s side. Without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, United look impotent, and while he spent much of Sunday afternoon doing very little, a goal and an assist still make for great reading.

There is a fresh one-year contract on the table for the big Swede but with LA Galaxy willing to break the bank to lure another star to Hollywood, it’s isn’t that straight forward for United. They have an over-reliance on the 35-year old and certainly aren’t ready to be free of that.

Everton face exodus

Romelu Lukaku put in his typical big kid on the playground performance on Sunday, bagging twice in the goal-fest at Goodison. He now has 23 league goals – more than Middlesbrough have scored all season – with six games still left to play. That tally would have won him the Golden Boot on seven other occasions across the Premier League era. That sort of form commands upwards of £60m these days and you’d think that would be a fee too big for Everton to snub.

But he isn’t the only one who is stalling on a new contract, with Ronald Koeman firing a warning shot to Ross Barkley who will enter the last year of his contract in the summer. And the Dutchman said after the win on Sunday that Barkley would be sold this summer if he refused to sign. Losing your two best players is hardly in-keeping with the direction the club would be hoping to be heading in after announcing their plans for a new stadium.

Alli can walk without a Kane

There was a theory that Deli Alli needed Harry Kane ahead of him to put in his best performances. If you look at when Alli has played his best football, Kane has been there, while his worst periods have been when the striker is absent. Alli had a dip earlier in the season when Kane was out for seven weeks but he looks like he has finally matured and is able to shoulder that level of responsibility.

Alli scored his 16th league goal of the season against Watford on season (Getty)
Alli scored his 16th league goal of the season against Watford on season (Getty)

Since Kane injured himself in the 6-0 win over Millwall in the FA Cup, Alli has three goals in four games, but, more importantly, acted like a leader on the pitch. He inspired Spurs snatching victory from the jaws of defeat against Swansea in midweek and was sensational again on Saturday. He also now has the nice little stat of scoring or assisting as many goals (40) by the age of 21 as Frank Lampard (15), Steven Gerrard (13) and David Beckham (12) combined.

Liverpool overcome acid test

After so dramatically conceding two points against Bournemouth last Wednesday, Liverpool’s season of beating the big teams but struggling against the mid-to-bottom tablers continued. In a mini league against the top six they are comfortably top, it is those other teams which are costing them.

Firmino celebrates his late winner, having started the match on the bench (AFP/Getty)
Firmino celebrates his late winner, having started the match on the bench (AFP/Getty)

It looked like the same old story on Saturday when Jurgen Klopp’s weakened Reds fell behind to Stoke. But the introduction of Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino turned the game on its head as they both scored within two minutes of each other to give Liverpool the win. That grit had been missing from Liverpool’s season but, with their remaining fixtures, you’d have to back them to keep hold of their top-four place – despite Manchester United and Arsenal holding games in hand over them.

What a difference a day makes for Bilic

Going into the match with West Ham on Saturday, West Ham were on a run of five straight defeats and seven games without a win. That saw them enter free fall and only five points clear of the drop in the most turbulent of first seasons in a new home. Bilic had publically criticised the owners for publically discussing his job and things were getting a bit messy.

But what a difference a win makes. Following the win, Bilic was talking about finishing in the top half, being safe of the threat of relegation – despite insisting they still needed 42 points – and building for next season. Such a fickle game, this football.

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