Sunderland 0, Manchester United 3
Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic insists he is improving with age after his 27th goal of the season helped lift his team back to fifth in the Premier League.
Midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan and substitute Marcus Rashford scored the other goals as United boosted their Champions League prospects and nudged 10-man Sunderland closer to relegation.
It was 35-year-old Ibrahimovic’s 250th strike since he turned 30, and the evergreen Swede believes he has more than compensated for increasing physical limitations with a better understanding of his craft.
“I train hard. I keep focusing. I believe in myself and I know what I’m able to do,” said Ibrahimovic, whose United future beyond this season remains undecided.
“I’m not worried, I just play my game, enjoy it, and it seems like the older I get the more intelligent I get. Because of course I can’t move the same as five or 10 years ago, but the older, the more experienced, the more intelligent [you get], you don’t waste so much energy on things you don’t really need.
“My game is improving, I’m getting better and better – I feel like Benjamin Button.”
Moyes blames referee
Sunderland manager David Moyes attributed defeat to referee Craig Pawson’s controversial decision to send off Black Cats midfielder Sebastian Larsson for a studs-up tackle shortly before half-time.
“Today the result was helped by the referee. Manchester United were playing well but the red card was a decision that went against us,” said Moyes, whose team remain bottom and 10 points from safety.
“We were hanging in the game and trying to do our best. We gave away a poor goal and I thought we needed to get a lot closer. When we went down to 10 men it made it a lot harder.”
Sunderland prolong barren run
United overtook Arsenal to move within four points of the top four, on whom they have a game in hand, while they also possess an alternative route into the Champions League in the form of the Europa League.
The picture is bleaker for their former boss Moyes and Sunderland who have now gone seven top-flight matches without scoring – the joint second worst sequence in Premier League history.
It took a moment of inspiration from Ibrahimovic to put United ahead in the 30th minute, however, when he held off Billy Jones on the edge of the penalty area, made room for a shot and whipped a low strike into the far corner.
United needed goalkeeper Sergio Romero to spread himself at close range to deny Victor Anichebe Sunderland’s first league goal since 4 February, and the hosts suffered another blow when Larsson was dismissed.
The visitors compounded that setback seconds after half-time when Mkhitaryan fired the second through the legs of Lamine Kone and low across goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
Rashford capped a comfortable win in the 89th minute when United broke and Ibrahimovic teed up the England youngster to fire a fizzing shot into the bottom-left corner from an acute angle.