Rashford proving viable alternative to Ibrahimovic at United
ABS-CBN Sports on Apr 20, 2017 09:33 AM
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, Sunday, April 16, 2017.(AP Photo/ Rui Vieira)
STEVE DOUGLAS, AP Sports Writer
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been many things for Manchester United this season: A leader, a guaranteed source of goals, an inspiration to the club's youngsters on and off the field.
But, in one way, has he been holding the team back?
Ibrahimovic was dropped to the bench for United's Premier League game against Chelsea on Sunday and his replacement, 19-year-old Marcus Rashford, produced an electric, goal-scoring display in a 2-0 win.
Rashford did what Ibrahimovic doesn't do — stretched the opposition defense, chased long balls, worried his markers with his pace and directness. He illuminated Old Trafford with his energy, making for the best atmosphere in the famous stadium all season.
Everything about United was quicker and more vibrant, and it all stemmed from the movement of Rashford and his strike partner on the day, Jesse Lingard.
It is unlikely to stop United manager Jose Mourinho recalling Ibrahimovic to the starting lineup on Thursday for the second leg of a Europa League quarterfinal against Anderlecht that is well poised at 1-1 after the first game in Belgium last week. But Mourinho knows now there is a thrilling and viable alternative to the Swedish striker, which may even benefit the team.
"With his quality," United defender Matteo Darmian said of Rashford, "he can be one of the top players, one of the most important players, in the world."
Ibrahimovic has scored 28 goals this season, proving a revelation in his first year in England and a man for the big occasion — notably his double in the victory over Southampton in the English League Cup final.
But there have also been many matches where United has labored in attack and been unable to break down packed teams, with everything going through Ibrahimovic and sometimes making Mourinho's side predictable.
There are echoes of Rashford's situation over at Paris Saint-Germain, where Edinson Cavani has come into his own as the team's main striker — scoring 43 goals this season — since Ibrahimovic left last summer. Cavani often had to settle for a place on the wing when Ibrahimovic played at PSG, limiting his effectiveness.
Like many teams that visit Old Trafford, Anderlecht, the Belgian champion, will likely be on the defensive on Thursday and look to frustrate United's players before hitting them on the counterattack.
It might need a piece of genius from Ibrahimovic to break open the game. Or will it be Rashford, from the wing or off the substitutes' bench, who shines for United?
Here's a look at the other second legs in the quarterfinals:
BESIKTAS vs. LYON (Lyon leads 2-1)
What a week it has been for Lyon — for all the wrong reasons.
Against Besiktas last week, there was widespread fighting as rival fans clashed inside and outside the stadium. A few days later, Lyon's players were attacked on the field by angry Bastia fans in a French league match, with goalkeeper Anthony Lopes trading blows.
The last thing Lyon needs is more incidents in Istanbul, where the atmosphere is likely to be tense and security high, given what happened in the first leg.
Lyon's players will need to find some away form. Lyon has scored freely at home all season but struggled away with only two wins on the road since the turn of the year.
Still, Lyon will be favorite to reach its third European semifinal after reaching the last four of the Champions League in 2010 and the now-defunct European Cup Winners' Cup in 1964.
SCHALKE vs. AJAX (Ajax leads 2-0)
Schalke's season is starting to unravel. After losing to Ajax in Amsterdam, Markus Weinzierl's side lost 2-1 at last-place Darmstadt in the German league for a third defeat in four games, leaving the team in 11th place and struggling to qualify for European competition next season.
In a way, it's typical of the club's dysfunctional season, which began with five straight losses in the Bundesliga.
Ajax warmed up Sunday with a 5-1 win over Heerenveen to keep its Dutch title hopes alive.
GENK vs. CELTA VIGO (Celta Vigo leads 3-2)
A draw against Genk in Belgium will secure Celta Vigo a spot in the semifinal of a top European club competition for the first time.
The Spanish club is boosted by victories in its last three away games in European competitions. Genk, also seeking its first semifinal appearance, is unbeaten in eight home matches in European competitions.
AP Sports Writers Jerome Pugmire in Monaco and Tales Azzoni in Madrid, and Associated Press writer Ciaran Fahey in Berlin contributed to this report.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80