Ibrahimovic Scores Brace As AC Milan Stay Top Of Serie A

AC Milan's Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic centres the ball before feeling pain at his left leg, a thigh muscle strain during the Italian serie A football match Napoli vs AC Milan on November 22, 2020 at the San Paolo stadium in Naples. ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP
AC Milan’s Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic centres the ball before feeling pain at his left leg, a thigh muscle strain during the Italian serie A football match Napoli vs AC Milan on November 22, 2020 at the San Paolo stadium in Naples. ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice to bring his tally to 10 league goals this season before limping off with a muscle strain as AC Milan stayed top in Serie A on Sunday with a 3-1 win at 10-man Napoli.

Milan move back two points ahead of Sassuolo — 2-0 winners earlier at Hellas Verona — with Roma third after Henrikh Mkhitaryan netted a brace in a dominant 3-0 win over Parma.

“For me Zlatan is stronger now than 10-12 years ago,” said Napoli coach Gennaro Gattuso of his former Milan teammate.

“Milan strongly believes in Ibra, his teammates trust him 100 percent.

“In my opinion, their team is not the strongest but they have the mentality.

“We play well but lose as soon as it gets difficult.”

Ibrahimovic continued his fine form, heading in a Theo Hernandez cross after 20 minutes, sending in the second with his knee nine minutes after the break.

But the 39-year-old pulled up clutching his left hamstring and was substituted after 79 minutes.

The Swede has scored in all six games he has played this season, having missed two after contracting coronavirus.

Coach Stefano Pioli missed the trip south with Covid-19, but his side got their first league win in Naples since October 2010, the season they last won the Scudetto, with Ibrahimovic also on the scoresheet that time.

Napoli played the final half an hour a man down after Tiemoue Bakayoko was sent off for two yellow cards, just after Dries Mertens had pulled a goal back for the hosts.

Norwegian Jens Petter Hauge completed the scoring five minutes into injury time, the 21-year-old getting his first Serie A goal.

Champions Juventus are fourth — four points off top spot — after winning 2-0 at Cagliari on Saturday.

Last season’s runners-up Inter Milan are just behind in fifth, after a Romelu Lukaku double inspired a 4-2 comeback win over Torino, with Napoli dropping from third to sixth — six points off top spot.

Inter ‘lack ferocity’

In Milan, Torino got off to a strong start despite playing without top striker Andrea Belotti who pulled up during the warm-up.

Simone Zaza took the skipper’s place and scored the opener just before the break with Cristian Ansaldi adding a second from the penalty spot after an hour.

Inter reacted in the 64th minute, with Alexis Sanchez bundling the ball in after Lukaku’s initial effort was tipped onto the crossbar, before the Chilean set up his fellow former Manchester United forward for the equaliser three minutes later.

Lukaku pulled Inter ahead from the penalty spot six minutes from time and then provided the cross for substitute Lautaro Martinez to score the fourth on 90 minutes.

“I didn’t like what I saw,” said Inter coach Antonio Conte three days before his side host Real Madrid in the Champions League.

Inter Milan's Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku (L) and Inter Milan's Italian coach Antonio Conte tap hands at the end of the Italian Serie A football match Inter vs Torino on November 22, 2020 at the Giuseppe-Meazza (San Siro) stadium in Milan. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP
Inter Milan’s Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku (L) and Inter Milan’s Italian coach Antonio Conte tap hands at the end of the Italian Serie A football match Inter vs Torino on November 22, 2020 at the Giuseppe-Meazza (San Siro) stadium in Milan. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

 

“We lack the ferocity of last season.

“But we showed character as being 2-0 down could have destroyed us.”

Torino drop into the relegation zone after their fifth defeat.

In Verona, Sassuolo continued their impressive run thanks to goals in either half from Jeremie Boga and Domenico Berardi.

The side from Emilia Romagna are unbeaten this season and are the joint top scorers with 20 goals.

Roma meanwhile stretched their unbeaten run in all competitions to 10 matches, cementing victory with three first-half goals.

Borja Mayoral got his first Serie A goal just before the half-hour mark, with Mkhitaryan adding two more before the break to bring his tally to five in two games after scoring a hat-trick last time out against Genoa.

In Tuscany, Cesare Prandelli had a nightmare start as coach of struggling Fiorentina with a 1-0 home defeat by Benevento.

Former Italy coach Prandelli returned to the ‘Viola’ a decade after leaving for the Azzurri job in 2010, but the team fell to their fourth defeat.

To add to Prandelli’s woes, French midfielder Franck Ribery went off injured.

“The fragility worries me most,” said Prandelli.

“Perhaps the team succumbed to their fears and negative thoughts when Franck came off.”

Riccardo Improta scored his first Serie A goal for Benevento on 52 minutes, slotting in a Gabriele Moncini cross after a Cristiano Biraghi defensive error.

Fiorentina slip to 15th in the Serie A table, just behind Benevento.

 

 

AFP

‘COVID Had The Courage To Challenge Me’: Ibrahimovic Taunts Virus After Positive Test

File photo: AC Milan’s forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Sweden looks on during the warm up before the Italian Serie A football match AC Milan vs Bologna played behind closed doors on July 18, 2020 at the San Siro Stadium in Milan, as the country eases its lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP)

 

 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not weighed down after AC Milan on Thursday confirmed he had contracted COVID-19 and had taken to social media to taunt the virus. 

“I tested negative to Covid yesterday and positive today,” the Swede tweeted on Thursday, confirming his status. “No symptoms whatsoever. Covid had the courage to challenge me. Bad idea.”

“AC Milan announces that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has tested positive for the swab performed for today’s match, Milan-Bodo/Glimt,” the Serie A side had said earlier in the day.

According to the club, the player has been quarantined after they carried out a test on players and staff.

“All the other swabs carried out on the team group were negative,” the club explained.

The former Manchester United forward returned to Milan in January 2020 and scored 10 goals in 18 league games for Stefano Pioli’s outfit as they ended the season sixth on the log.

He was on the score sheet on Monday when they defeated Bologna 2-0 win.

“I’m fine, I’m working, this is the second official match,” he said after scoring against Bologna.

Ibrahimovic also netted a goal during a Europa League qualifier against Shamrock Rovers.

Last month, he reached an agreement on a new deal for another season reportedly worth seven million euros ($8.3m).

The seven-time European champions moved up from 11th on his arrival to sixth, finishing the league season on a 12-game unbeaten run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ibrahimovic Extends AC Milan Contract For 2020/21 Season

File photo: Milan’s Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic poses with his new jersey during his official presentation as new AC Milan player at the club’s headquarters Casa Milan in Milan on January 3, 2019.  MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

 

Veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has signed a one-year contract extension with AC Milan, the Italian giants announced on Monday.

The former Swedish international, who turns 39 in October, rejoined Milan in January and will stay at the San Siro until the end of June 2021.

“Today (Monday), Zlatan Ibrahimovic rejoined his teammates and coach Stefano Pioli at Milanello Sports Center, where he took part in his first training session of the season,” the club said in a statement.

According to Italian media reports, Ibrahimovic has agreed to a seven-million-euro ($8.35-million) annual salary with Milan.

He helped Pioli’s side bounce back from a poor first half of last season, scoring 11 goals in 20 games in all competitions to help fire the seven-time European champions to Europa League qualification.

Ibrahimovic said at the weekend that he “wanted to help the club return to where they belong”.

“For six months, we have done great things but we have not won anything. We must continue and do the same,” he said in a video.

The 38-year-old previously played for the Rossoneri from 2010-2012, scoring 56 goals and winning the 2011 Serie A title under Massimiliano Allegri.

It had been widely expected that ‘Ibra’ would sign a new deal and he will take the number 11 shirt, having played as Milan’s number 21 last term.

 

File photo: AC Milan’s Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates scoring his team’s fourth goal during the Italian Cup ((Coppa Italia) round of 8 football match between AC Milan and Torino on January 28, 2020, at the San Siro stadium in Milan. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

 

He had returned from American MLS outfit Los Angeles Galaxy on a six-month contract with an optional extra year.

Milan finished last season with a 12-match unbeaten streak in Serie A to grab a sixth-place finish, although they still fell short of returning to the Champions League for the first time since 2014.

Ibrahimovic has also played for Juventus and Inter Milan in Italy during his illustrious career and starred for Paris Saint-Germain in France and Manchester United in the Premier League.

He won four Ligue 1 titles with PSG during a four-year spell in which he became the club’s record goalscorer, a mantle since taken by Edinson Cavani.

‘Ibra’ has also lifted the La Liga trophy with Barcelona in 2010, three league titles with Inter and two Eredivisie crowns while at Ajax.

AFP

Ibrahimovic Agrees To Play Another Season At AC Milan For 7m Euros

File photo: AC Milan’s Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates scoring his team’s fourth goal during the Italian Cup ((Coppa Italia) round of 8 football match between AC Milan and Torino on January 28, 2020, at the San Siro stadium in Milan. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

 

 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will remain at AC Milan next season having reached agreement on a new deal reportedly worth 7 million euros ($8.3m) without bonuses, according to multiple reports in Italy on Friday.

Ibrahimovic, who turns 39 years in October, on Friday posted a photo of himself on social media wearing an AC Milan jersey with the number 11 written over the 21, and his arms wide: “As I said, I’m just warming up.”

The Swedish forward also posted a photo showing him lying relaxing with the caption “The quiet before the storm.”

Gazzetta Dello Sport reported that Ibrahimovic was expected back in Milan ahead of the new season on August 29, the same day he first joined the club back in 2010.

Ibrahimovic rejoined Milan in January on a six-month contract after leaving Los Angeles Galaxy, on a deal worth 3.5 million euros ($3.9 million) with the option for an additional season.

The former Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona player had a big impact, scoring 11 goals in 20 games.

“I think that we can all see that Ibra has played an important part in our season and our growth,” AC Milan CEO Ivan Gazidis said this week.

“We are doing everything we can to see that this can continue.”

The former seven-time European champions moved up from 11th on his arrival to sixth, finishing the league season on a 12-game unbeaten run.

Ibrahimovic helped AC Milan to the last of their 18 Serie A titles in 2011.

He also won three league titles with Inter Milan and two with Juventus which were both revoked because of the ‘Calciopoli’ match-fixing scandal.

The Italian season kicks off again on September 19.

AFP

Juventus Semi-Final Clash Against AC Milan Postponed Over Coronavirus

 

 

The Italian Cup semi-final clash between Juventus and AC Milan has been postponed as fears mount over the coronavirus epidemic in northern Italy, local authorities in Turin announced on Tuesday.

The match was due to take place on Wednesday night at Juve’s Allianz Stadium with fans from most of Italy able to attend but Claudio Palomba, the prefect of the Turin province, said that the government’s restrictions on who could attend sporting events weren’t enough to guarantee safety.

The decision, said Palomba, was made on the basis of “assessments made by the Piedmont region’s crisis unit” and regional health councilor Luigi Icardi, who insisted on “avoiding large public gatherings”.

READ ALSO: Liverpool Suffer Second Defeat As Chelsea Advance To FA Cup Quarter-Finals

No new date has yet been fixed for the second leg of the last-four tie, which is level at 1-1 following the first match at the San Siro last month.

News agency Ansa reports that the Milan players were told of the news while in their hotel in Turin ahead of the match.

On Tuesday the number of deaths in Italy caused by the outbreak of the coronavirus jumped to 79 with more than 2,500 people infected — the most of any country in Europe.

Fifty-five of those deaths have been recorded in the northern Lombardy region, with Emilia-Romagna reporting 18 deaths and Veneto also hard hit.

The match had been scheduled to take place behind closed doors, but then a government decree enabled fans who did not live in those three regions and two other provinces in Liguria and Le Marche to attend the match.

The announcement by the prefect, who in Italy is the state’s representative within a particular province, ended that loosening of restrictions.

Italian media reports on Tuesday said that a scientific committee advising the government has suggested spectators should be banned from attending sporting events for a month.

AFP

Ronaldo Scores First Serie A Hat-Trick As Ibrahimovic Returns To Italy

A photo combination of Juventus’ Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo and AC Milan’s Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic. AFP

 

Cristiano Ronaldo scored his first Serie A hat-trick to lift Juventus top of the table with a 4-0 win over Cagliari on Monday, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic made an “emotional” return for AC Milan in a goalless draw against Sampdoria.

Ronaldo struck for the fifth consecutive league game as the champions bounced back from their Italian Super Cup defeat by Lazio to move ahead of Inter Milan who play Napoli later Monday.

“I’m happy with this first (league) hat-trick. But the important thing is the team, which played very well,” said Ronaldo, who brought his league tally to 13 goals in 15 games this season.

“We had to win today and put pressure on Inter.”

READ ALSO: Nadal On Fire As Spain Crush Uruguay At ATP Cup

Cagliari held off Maurizio Sarri’s Juve early on, but the second half was all one-way traffic with 34-year-old Ronaldo breaking the deadlock just after the interval.

The Portuguese striker added a second from the penalty spot on 67 minutes then set up Gonzalo Higuain who came off the bench to strike a third nine minutes from time, before completing his hat-trick a minute later.

Juve are three points ahead of Inter in the table with Antonio Conte’s side travelling to eighth-placed Napoli looking to keep pace with the eight-time defending champions.

‘Like A God’

Ronaldo’s heroics overshadowed Swedish star Ibrahimovic’s return for Milan as he came off the bench in the 55th minute against Sampdoria.

The 38-year-old had not played since leaving MLS side LA Galaxy in October.

He came on for Poland striker Krzysztof Piatek to deafening applause from the San Siro crowd after rejoining the club last week.

But there was little else to cheer for the hosts who extended their winless run to three games and remain 12th in the table.

“I felt a lot of adrenaline, emotion, it brought me back nine or 10 years,” said Ibrahimovic, who was top scorer in Serie A with Milan in the 2011-12 campaign before leaving for Paris Saint-Germain.

“I wanted to get on the pitch, score a goal and then celebrate like a God in front of the Curva! But it will happen next time.”

The seven-time European champions are 13 points off Champions League qualification, a competition they have not played since the 2013-14 season.

“You can see that the team is lacking confidence and aggression in scoring goals,” said the Swede.

“I will try everything possible to get Milan going again. There is a lack of faith here.”

Five-Star Atalanta

Milan coach Stefano Pioli said the team were still reeling from their 5-0 defeat by Atalanta last time out.

“The disastrous defeat in Bergamo has remained within us,” said Pioli. “It is a shame not to have won. Ibra’s impact was absolutely positive.

“He immediately gave support, but the team is not yet used to his presence, we could look to him more.

“His physical prowess gives us some more solutions, but we lacked quality from everyone.”

Atalanta continued their fine form, closing to within a point of fourth-placed Roma, who lost 2-0 to Torino on Sunday, with another 5-0 rout, this time of seventh-placed Parma.

Atalanta were already three goals up before the break thanks to Papu Gomez, Remo Freuler and Robin Gosens, with Josip Ilicic adding a second-half double.

New Fiorentina coach Giuseppe Iachini had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Bologna in his first game after taking over from Vincenzo Montella.

The Tuscany side had led for most of the game after Marco Benassi volleyed in on 27 minutes but Riccardo Orsolini grabbed a point for Bologna deep into injury time.

Udinese secured back-to-back wins for the first time this season thanks to a late Rodrigo De Paul winner at Lecce.

AFP

Again Vandals Destroy Ibrahimovic’s Statue In Sweden

The statue of Swedish football player Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Malmo, Sweden, is pictured after it has been completely sawn down and destroyed during the night to January 5, 2020. 
Johan NILSSON / TT News Agency / AFP

 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s statue in his hometown of Malmo was vandalised overnight Saturday, Swedish police reported.

The statue has been the target of numerous attacks since the Swedish footballer invested in Stockholm-based Hammarby, angering supporters of Malmo FF, the club where he began his professional career.

In November, a day after his investment in Hammarby, Ibrahimovic filed a “hate crime” complaint after the statue was attacked with fire and paint and the word ‘Judas’ daubed across the front door of his Stockholm home.

In the latest incident, the statue had collapsed against the barrier protecting it, its feet partially chopped off.

READ ALSO: ‘Ruthless’ Real Madrid Thrash Getafe

“A vandalism complaint has been lodged,” a police spokesperson told AFP.

There are calls from local inhabitants for the statue outside Malmo’s city stadium to be moved.

“I can understand that many people are disappointed in Zlatan’s behaviour but vandalising a statute is simply unworthy. Better to express your dissatisfaction in a democratic way,” Malmo deputy mayor Frida Trollmyr told AFP.

A citizens’ initiative to move the sculpture will be considered in February, she added.

Ibrahimovic, 38,  is set to make his debut for former club AC Milan in Serie A on Monday after signing a six-month contract with the former European champions last week.

AFP

World Cup: Ibrahimovic Won’t Rule Out Sweden Return

Zlatan Ibrahimovic of the Los Angeles Galaxy answers questions from the media during a press conference at StubHub Center on March 30, 2018, in Carson, California. Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images/AFP

 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic refused to rule out his chances of playing for Sweden in the World Cup on Friday as he launched his Major League Soccer career with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

The veteran striker is at the centre of a national guessing-game in Sweden over whether he may or may not be brought out of international retirement for this year’s finals in Russia.

On Friday as he was unveiled by the Galaxy in California, Ibrahimovic was coy about playing in Russia.

“Let me first enjoy it here,” Ibrahimovic said. “What happens here will take it further.

“But my focus is on Galaxy, prepare good for Galaxy, be available, help the coach, help the club, whatever they need.

“The World Cup is another question. I’ve said it before. Nobody needs to call anybody. If they want, I’m there.”

Sweden coach Janne Andersson has so far pointedly resisted the urge to make the first move, saying earlier in March that Zlatan could call him if he wanted to be considered for selection.

“Zlatan is very welcome to call me,” Andersson said, hinting he would not take the initiative.

Ibrahimovic however declined to clarify his hopes however when asked Friday if he wanted to play in the World Cup.

“Let’s keep them on their toes,” the striker said. “Let’s see. Because they’re all talking about whether I should go or if I should not go. Because they have it good, they have it bad. But so far they didn’t win nothing.

“And I know how to win.”

AFP

Ibrahimovic Inspires United To Narrow Win

Manchester United’s Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic shoots wide during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Brighton and Hove Albion at Old Trafford. Photo:  Oli SCARFF / AFP

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s introduction as a second-half substitute proved crucial as Manchester United finally discovered a way to beat newly-promoted Brighton and Hove Albion 1-0 at Old Trafford on Saturday.

The goal came from a 67th-minute corner, conceded by Solomon March but hotly disputed by the visitors, and their anger increased when Marcus Rashford’s cross was headed out to Ashley Young whose shot took a cruel deflection off defender Lewis Dunk on its way into the net.

But it had looked like being a frustrating afternoon for Jose Mourinho until his decision to bring on Swedish veteran Ibrahimovic for his third substitute outing in a little over a week following a seven-month injury lay-off.

Brighton had only beaten United once before in their entire history, 35 years ago, but if they were over-awed by the visit to Old Trafford, they certainly did not show it.

Indeed, the best chances of the opening exchanges were carved out by the visitors, sitting proudly in the top 10 of the Premier League table before kick-off.

Just three minutes had gone when Anthony Knockaert worked his way to the byline and sent over a dangerous cross which came tantalisingly close to finding team-mates Glenn Murray and March.

David De Gea was called into action twice in quick succession, making what turned out to be routine saves to gather shots from Pascal Gross and the increasingly busy Knockaert.

Brighton’s approach certainly made for an open game with United keen to cut rivals Manchester City’s lead at the top of the table to five points.

After two minutes, Romelu Lukaku had played a neat one-two with Anthony Martial, only to undo the good work by leaning back and shooting high over the Brighton goal.

A well-aimed Martial cross from the left almost set up another chance for the Belgian striker but keeper Mathew Ryan rose well to collect and, in their attempts to get Lukaku more involved, Juan Mata’s 24th-minute cross picked out his team-mate but he was unable to put any power into his headed effort.

After limiting United’s attack so convincingly, Albion were growing in confidence as the half-hour passed and Ryan had still not been tested.

– Lukaku chance –

It took until the 33rd minute for United to force so much as a corner and, a couple of minutes later, when Antonio Valencia crossed promisingly from the right, it was predictable that Lukaku could only head wide inside a crowded six-yard box.

In fact, Brighton again looked the more likely to score when Gross’s free-kick was flicked on and Murray flung himself at the ball, narrowly missing contact with what would have been a spectacular diving header.

And when Ryan was finally tested, in the last minute of the first half, he proved equal to the task, making a magnificent double save on his goalline to block a Lukaku header and Paul Pogba’s follow-up from a Rashford cross.

Brighton retained a strong foothold in the game after the restart, with Murray coming close to making telling contact on Gross’s cross and Davy Propper shooting over from 25 yards.

United responded, with Mata shooting directly at Ryan, Lukakau almost playing in Pogba with a back-heel and Young planting a left-foot shot wide.

But, by the 62nd minute, Mourinho had seen enough and brought on Ibrahimovic, who won a corner with his first touch and instantly raised the atmosphere at Old Trafford with the opening goal coming just four minutes later.

Still, Brighton were undaunted, with Dunk leading a breakaway charge upfield before flicking a weak shot at De Gea and Knockaert sending over yet another dangerous low cross-shot which passed just beyond the far post.

In the closing stages, Shane Duffy almost met a far-post set-piece for Brighton while Ibrahimovic had two shots on goal without managing to test Ryan.

AFP

Pogba Starts For Man Utd, Ibrahimovic On Bench

Manchester United’s French midfielder Paul Pogba. / AFP PHOTO / Oli SCARFF

Paul Pogba was named in Manchester United’s starting XI to face Newcastle United on his return from injury on Saturday, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo on the bench.

Midfielder Pogba has been out since September 12 with a hamstring injury, while striker Ibrahimovic and defender Rojo both sustained serious knee injuries during a Europa League game against Anderlecht in April.

Defender Phil Jones was not included in United’s match-day squad after aggravating a thigh problem while on international duty with England, so Victor Lindelof partnered Chris Smalling at centre-back.

Jose Mourinho’s United began the day eight points below Premier League leaders Manchester City.

AFP

Ibrahimovic, Pogba Back For United – Mourinho

 Paul Pogba and long-term injury victim Zlatan Ibrahimovic will make their Manchester United returns against Newcastle United on Saturday, manager Jose Mourinho announced on Friday.

France midfielder Pogba has been out since September with a hamstring injury, while former Sweden striker Ibrahimovic has not played since damaging knee ligaments against Anderlecht in April.

“The players that stayed here and (were) recovering from injuries, even the ones that are recovering from big injuries, they are ready to play,” Mourinho told MUTV.

Asked to identify the long-term absentees in contention to face Newcastle at Old Trafford, Mourinho replied: “Pogba, Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo.”

Argentinian defender Rojo suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury in the same Europa League game as Ibrahimovic last season.

News of the trio’s availability is a welcome fillip for Mourinho, who has seen his team fall eight points below Manchester City in the Premier League title race after losing their last two away games.

Ibrahimovic, 36, made a stunning impact on English football last season, top-scoring for United with 28 goals from 46 games before succumbing to his career-threatening injury.

He left the club when his contract expired at the end of last season, but signed a new one-year deal in August.

Mourinho originally estimated that Ibrahimovic would not be able to return to action before the end of the year.

Pogba, 24, was less conspicuously successful last season following his return to the club from Juventus in a then world-record £89.3 million ($117.7 million, 99.8 million euros) transfer.

But he scored in United’s victory over Ajax in the Europa League final and made a strong start to the current campaign, with two goals and two assists in his first six appearances.

AFP

Man Utd May Unleash Pogba, Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic shines as Manchester United Beat Southampton To Claim League CupManchester United supporters could be treated to the long-awaited returns of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba when their team resume their Premier League campaign against Newcastle United on Saturday.

The pair, so instrumental in United’s success last season, are back in full training and may be named on the bench as manager Jose Mourinho attempts to integrate them back into his first-team plans.

Ibrahimovic, 35, has made an impressive recovery from the career-threatening knee ligament injury he suffered in April.

Pogba’s injury was less serious, but the 24-year-old France midfielders has nevertheless been sidelined since mid-September with a torn hamstring.

In his absence, United’s play has stuttered compared with their impressive early-season form and, of the two, his return could be the more pivotal.

Ibrahimovic said in an interview in his native Sweden that he will return from his injury stronger for the experience.

“I’m determined to return better and stronger than before,” said Ibrahimovic, whose side trail league leaders Manchester City by eight points.

“That is my goal and it will happen. There are no other options.

“When I’ve decided to do something, nothing is going to change my mind. I said I would take over Sweden. At breakfast I had already taken over Sweden.

“At lunch I took over Europe. At dinner I took over the world. That was my plan. And that is exactly what happened.”

The veteran forward also said he is relishing the prospect of partnering Romelu Lukaku in the United attack, having handed the Belgium striker his number nine squad shirt when Lukaku signed from Everton.

– Gayle’s Beckham inspiration –

“I was asked who I thought was good in the league and I mentioned Lukaku,” said Ibrahimovic.

“He is physically strong and he makes a lot of goals. Every team needs players like that. I am glad he is at United. I think he will help us a lot and he already has in just a short time.”

Defender Marcos Rojo is making good progress from his own knee ligament injury and played for United’s under-23 team in mid-week, although he may not be in contention for the Newcastle visit.

Mourinho, who has been plagued by injury problems in recent weeks, is finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, with midfielders Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick both available for the game.

Phil Jones has also recovered from the thigh injury he suffered while on international duty, offering Mourinho options in defence, with Eric Bailly likely to partner the England man at centre-back.

Newcastle are set to be without injured trio Jamaal Lascelles, Mikel Merino and Christian Atsu as they go in search of what would be only a second victory in 23 league visits to Old Trafford.

Manager Rafael Benitez, whose side sit in 11th place with one win from their last six games, will assess Ciaran Clark after the defender’s return from duty with the Republic of Ireland.

Dwight Gayle hopes to keep his place in the starting line-up after being recalled for the 1-0 defeat at home to Bournemouth before the international break.

The former Crystal Palace striker grew up as a Manchester United fan, in large part due to coming from the same area of London as former United star David Beckham.

“David Beckham was always an idol of mine,” said Gayle, who is yet to score in nine appearances this season.

“I followed Manchester United growing up and still enjoy watching them.”

AFP