LONDON â€” After 30 minutes of Sunday’s Premier League game against Sunderland, Manchester United appeared in danger of meandering its way to another disappointing result.
Thankfully for manager Jose Mourinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic had other ideas.
The Swedish forward demanded the ball be played to him on the edge of the penalty area, and then evaded the attempts of two Sunderland defenders to halt his progress before sending an unstoppable strike into the far bottom corner.
“You need these players sometimes to make it and normally every top team has a couple of them that can make a difference. Zlatan did that with the goal,” Mourinho said.
After Ibrahimovic’s moment of inspiration, the result was never in doubt and a red card for Sebastian Larsson left space for Henrikh Mkhitaryan and substitute Marcus Rashford to seal the points for United.
With the league’s top four all having won on Saturday, the victory ensured United kept pace in the race for Champions League qualification as it moved above Arsenal into fifth and within four points of fourth-place Manchester City, which has played one more game.
Sunderland remains bottom having now failed to score in its last seven games, 10 points adrift of safety.
“We reacted to the results of yesterday,” Mourinho said. “We got the three points, (with a) solid performance against a team that is sad. When you play against a team that is sad, if you score before (them), the game is almost over because it is difficult to react.”
“After Liverpool and Manchester City’s victories, if we didn’t win today it’s almost mathematically impossible (to finish fourth).”
Unlike its rivals, United can still qualify for next season’s Champions League by winning the Europa League. It resumes its campaign with a quarterfinal first leg in Belgium against Anderlecht on Thursday.
EVERTON 4, LEICESTER 2
Romelu Lukaku’s double ensured Craig Shakespeare’s perfect record as Leicester manager was ended at Goodison Park.
The Champions had won five consecutive league games after sacking Claudio Ranieri in February following a run of results that left it just above the relegation zone.
But with Wednesday’s Champions League quarterfinal first leg in mind, Shakespeare made five changes to his starting lineup, resulting in a lack of cohesion that Everton wasted no time in exploiting.
There were four goals in the opening 23 minutes, with teenager Tom Davies giving Everton the lead after just 30 seconds. Islam Slimani and Marc Albrighton hit back for the champions, only for Lukaku’s strikes either side of a Phil Jagielka header to put Everton out of reach.
Everton has now won seven consecutive Premier League home games, all of which Lukaku has scored in.
Sam Johnston is at www.twitter.com/samjohnstontwit
Sam Johnston, The Associated Press