Zlatan Ibrahimovic has said that Jose Mourinho was right to admonish his attacking players for a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal, but Manchester United’s mercurial Swedish striker also conceded that he was feeling the fatigue of a long season.
The 35-year-old has played in 44 games for United this season and is the team’s top goalscorer with 28 but was one of a number who failed to take chances against Anderlecht in the Europa League quarter-final first leg in Brussels on Thursday. Ibrahimovic will be a key figure when United try on Sunday to inflict on Chelsea only their fifth league defeat of the season, with just five victories required for Antonio Conte’s team to seal the title.
After the draw with Anderlecht, in which the home side equalised in the 87th minute Mourinho said that United’s defensive players had a right to be “upset” with their attacking counterparts. “They have to kill the game and they didn’t,” he said.
Speaking in the aftermath of that draw, Ibrahimovic was asked whether Mourinho was right to call out his attacking players publicly for their shortcomings. “Absolutely,” Ibrahimovic said. “I think he is right in this matter because today I wasn't feeling good in the sense of I was feeling tired. But it is not an excuse because I still have to do well, I still have to do much more and much better than I did today. I speak for myself and [Anderlecht] was not a good performance.
“We have one month to go, it's many games we play. I have been playing almost all the games. But we are still grinding, we are still pushing because we have this Europa League and the end of the Premier League. We fight for it.”
Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba are United’s two highest appearance makers this season with 40 and 42 starts respectively. United have three more outfield players with in excess of 30 starts, Ander Herrera, Antonio Valencia and Marcos Rojo. Chelsea have six outfield players with 30 or more starts but none more than Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill who have both made 36.
Ibrahimovic raised the issue of Chelsea’s non participation in Europe. They have played 38 games this season compared to 52 for United, including the Community Shield. He said: “I think they are a good team. Overall a good team and then of course they are playing once a week which makes a difference also because at the end of the season, I don't know how many games we have in total but I think we have much more than them.
“They haven't been playing in Europe this season and they went out from the League Cup early. But they have a great team, or else they would not be number one. I think [United’s unbeaten league run stretching back to defeat to Chelsea on 23 Oct] is nothing we focus on. I would prefer to be first in the league and not having this record. It doesn't give us anything, this record.”
Shortlisted for the PFA player of the year award, Ibrahimovic said that it was not a major factor in his thinking. He did, however, say that Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante would be a worthy winner. “It depends how you look at it. For me, if the collective is good, the individual becomes good. So I think whoever wins it deserves to win it. It is nothing I focus on, it is not my objective. I have other objectives. Let's see who wins it.
“I think a player like that [Kante] would do well anywhere. In his case he gets a lot of credit for what he is doing. But normally players like that who run a lot, I remember [Blaise] Matuidi at PSG, they don't get the credit they deserve because they are more important than people think they are. He [Kante] would play good in any team.