For 62 minutes, Blackburn Rovers’s hopes of knocking Manchester United out of the FA Cup were very much alive. Having taken the lead before being pegged back in the first half, the Championship outfit could certainly argue they were deserving of at least a replay following a spirited performance.
Enter Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba.
Kept on the bench by Jose Mourinho in the hope of resting them ahead of next week’s EFL Cup final, United’s two biggest superstars were woken from their slumber to provide the quality an otherwise lacklustre United required to force themselves into the quarter-finals. Thirteen minutes later, the pair combined to do just that.
Picking the ball up inside his own half, Pogba showed great class to lift a perfectly-weighted ball over the top of the Blackburn defence that Ibrahimovic was able to let bounce before slotting past goalkeeper Jason Steele with aplomb. This United squad is still going through something of a rebuild under Mourinho, but in his dynamic duo he has two world-class talents on which lean for at least the next 18 months.
Ibrahimovic in particular continues to defy those who felt that, at 35, he would not be able to recreate his best form in the English game. Just three days after netting a hat-trick against Saint-Etienne he stood up to net yet his 24th goal of an increasingly fruitful season. That no player has played more matches than him in all competitions this term (36) is just a further testament to his fitness.
His reward will likely be a week at home while his team-mates jet off to France to seal their passage to the last-16 of the Europa League.
That they were able to conjure up a moment of magic will come as great relief for Mourinho, who for over an hour was staring down the barrel of massively unwanted replay that would have further added to the potential fixture chaos United are facing in the coming weeks.
5 - All five of Paul Pogba's assists for Manchester United in 2016/17 have been for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Telepathy. — OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 19, 2017
Victory at Ewood Park means they remain on track for a slightly unprecedented treble in Mourinho’s first season while a place in the top four of the Premier League is certainly within their grasp. But a draw in Lancashire would have left them facing up to 26 fixtures to play in just 13 weeks. Even with a squad of United’s depth Mourinho would have required a magic wand to steer them to three pieces of silverware and a place in the Champions League on merit. Fortunately for the Portuguese, he does have players capable of magic in the shape of Ibrahimovic and Pogba, and if their workloads can be managed effectively over the final weeks of the season then they look set to be pivotal in terms of what this United side can go onto achieve. Certainly if the Red Devils go onto retain the FA Cup, their contribution on a miserable day in Blackburn will not be forgotten.