27 Dec Mkhitaryan the magician
Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s moment of magic capped a comprehensive Manchester United win and chastening Old Trafford return for Sunderland manager David Moyes.
Two years and eight months after his ill-fated spell as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor came to an end, the Boxing Day clash saw the Scot return to his former club for the first time.
Moyes’ hopes of exacting revenge were ended comprehensively, though, as Daley Blind and Zlatan Ibrahimovic efforts were added to in style by substitute Mkhitaryan, marking his return from injury with an outrageous flick as Sunderland were overcome 3-1.
There had been questions over the Armenian having struggled to work his way into the United squad, never mind the starting line-up, following his summer move from Borussia Dortmund.
But Mkhitaryan has impressed since being given the nod by Jose Mourinho and, having returned from an ankle injury, scored an exceptional goal, flicking in an Ibrahimovic cross with aplomb.
The substitute was offside when the ball came over but the damage was already done by that points thanks to a low first-half strike from Blind that was added to after the break by in-form Ibrahimovic.
Mkhitaryan’s goal was the pick of the bunch, despite an outrageous late consolation from Fabio Borini, as United racked up a fourth straight league win as Moyes’ return ended in disappointment.
A hug from Fred the Red, handshake from Mourinho and clutch of autograph hunters welcomed Moyes into the away dugout at Old Trafford, where the view in the opening stages was far from comfortable.
However, United were unable to make any real inroads during their enterprising start as Sunderland’s threat grew in tandem with their confidence.
Papy Djilobodji saw an effort blocked and Jermain Defoe threatened on the counter, before David de Gea scampered across his goal to prevent Patrick van Aanholt scoring a free-kick.
Play was swinging from end-to-end and United broke with Juan Mata looking to latch onto a long ball, only to be barged to the deck with some force by Lamine Kone – a penalty appeal ignored by referee Martin Atkinson.
Mourinho’s visible chagrin was nearly lifted by the impressive Paul Pogba, who saw a first-time strike hit the post via a slight deflection.
The world’s most expensive player tried an effort from distance and hit a dipping volley as he attempted to lift a United side who had De Gea to thank for smartly denying Victor Anichebe and Borini following a defensive mix-up.
Mourinho’s side were not performing at the best but managed to eke out a first-half opener. Ibrahimovic held up the ball on the left-hand side of the box and teed up Blind, who took a touch on the run and drove the ball past Jordan Pickford.
There was an air of relief around Old Trafford given United’s struggles to break down teams at home this term, with Pickford preventing the home side from extending their advantage.
A lovely team move ended with Pogba taking a touch and then acrobatic swing at the ball, before Mata’s stoppage-time free-kick was denied by the young goalkeeper.
United continued in the ascendancy after half-time as they looked to double their advantage.
Pogba powered a header just over and Ibrahimovic missed the target with a fizzing strike, before Mkhitaryan was brought on to the delight of the Old Trafford faithful.
It was easy to see why as the Armenian curled wide within moments of his introduction, then impressively slipped through Ibrahimovic to get away a shot Pickford denied well.
The Swede would get the better of the impressive Black Cats goalkeeper in the 82nd minute after possession was frittered away, with the veteran to be fed by Pogba and slotting home.
Loud applause drowned out jeers as divisive midfielder Marouane Fellaini was brought on late in a match that ended with a bang.
Ibrahimovic swung in a cross from the right flank and Mkhitaryan directed home with an outstanding flick in front of the Stretford End.
It was a remarkable goal, albeit from an offside position, that Borini tried to match with his own wonder strike, but it was a mere consolation.