Jose Mourinho has said his criticism of Manchester United’s attack after last week’s 1-1 draw with Anderlecht was not directed at Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
United conceded a late equaliser in their Europa League quarterfinal first leg in Belgium and Mourinho said afterward that “the people who had to kill the game didn’t.”
Mourinho, who had been similarly critical of an attack containing Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan after the goalless draw with West Brom this month, named Ibrahimovic on the bench for the 2-0 win over Chelsea on Sunday but he has made clear that his disappointment was not focused on the Swede.
“I was not disappointed with Zlatan, I was disappointed with the team,” Mourinho said at his prematch news conference ahead of Thursday’s second leg against Anderlecht.
“The team had the game in their hands and did not kill the game. We could be speaking now about a friendly game tomorrow if we won 3-0 in Anderlecht.
“[The second leg could have been] a nice game, and the chance to play Axel Tuanzebe and some of the other young ones without any kind of pressure. The game was easy to cure, and we did not.”
Ibrahimovic, 35, has yet to prolong his United contract for a second year and continues to be linked with a move to MLS side LA Galaxy.
Asked about the future of the striker, who has scored 17 Premier League goals so far this season, Mourinho said: “I don’t know, I really don’t know.”
Pressed on whether winning the Europa League final in Stockholm would be a fitting farewell for the striker, he said: “I don’t think about it, I just think about Manchester United.
“I think it would be the perfect finale for us. It would be the perfect end to the season for us, a difficult season with lots of matches. I think for Zlatan it would be fantastic to play the final in his country, it would be perfect, it would be beautiful — no more than that.”
Mourinho is expected to restore Ibrahimovic to the starting lineup on Thursday, having said he was rested against Chelsea because he was “very tired,” and Anderlecht’s Dennis Appiah has warned his teammates to be wary.
Appiah was not at the club when the veteran netted four for Paris Saint-Germain in a Champions League clash in Brussels in 2013, but he saw the striker at his best last April.
Ibrahimovic scored twice and provided a further two as the defender’s Caen side were thrashed 6-0, so Appiah knows all too well what to expect.
“I think that you’re probably right, we didn’t see the best of him last week,” he said of the first leg.
“But you know you can maybe mark Zlatan for the whole game and for 80 minutes he might look he is not on his best match, but half an opportunity, half a chance, a tiny bit of space, and he can convert than into an opportunity or create an opportunity for someone else.
“We have got to be aware of that. You can’t leave him alone for a single second, you can’t give him too much space to operate.
“He is obviously a great player, he can make the difference.”