(Reuters) - In a TV interview before Tuesday’s match between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford, Zlatan Ibrahimovic had been asked if he was the best striker in the Premier League.
“Lions don’t compare to humans,” he smiled to his BT Sport questioner in quite perfect Zlatan fashion, suggesting that the very idea there could be a better marksman than him out there was laughable.
Then as if it to prove his point, he picked up where he left off before a three-match suspension, scoring the goal in the 93rd minute that once again bailed out United, helping them eke out a 1-1 draw.
He roared after his strike from the penalty spot just about kept United clinging on in fifth place in the race for the top four Champions League spots.
He had also had what appeared to most eyes -- certainly to United manager Jose Mourinho’s -- a perfectly good headed goal disallowed for the most marginal of offsides. The point is that, once again, he had delivered, a preening lion among ordinary tabbies.
It was his 27th goal of the season in all competitions, including his 16th in the league. What, it was hard not to ponder again, would Mourinho and United have done without his predatory instincts this term?
The worry for United is that the Swede himself may be beginning to wonder about all the under-achievement going on around him as he ponders whether he wants to extend his contract at Old Trafford next season.
There have already been media reports that he will join LA Galaxy in Major League Soccer.
Asked in that same interview about whether there were enough lions like him in the United squad, Ibrahimovic did not exactly offer a wholehearted vote of support to his colleagues with his response that “the table does not lie, the team is where it is because it is what it is.”
He reflected that he could not remember when he last finished second in his garlanded club career because it was so long ago at Milan, which sounded like a veiled warning from a man who is used to nothing but winning.
The draw here leaves United’s chances of a top-four place looking bleak as they lie four points behind fourth-placed Manchester City.
Their best route of earning guaranteed Champions League football next season appears to be a Europa League triumph.
“It’s going to be very difficult. I would say mathematically possible (to make the top four) but now we depend on our opponents. Can Chelsea help us tomorrow (when they face Manchester City)? We hope so,” Mourinho said.
”But it’s an amazing unbeaten run we’ve had (of 20 league games) but too many draws at home (nine in the league) and that’s why we are in the position we are. We don’t score enough goals, we don’t kill opponents.
“If we believe the door we have to focus on is the Europa League door, we have to go for it.”
Yet Mourinho knows one lion who will not let him down. “In an extreme situation of pressure in the 93rd minute when we got that penalty, Zlatan wanted to take the responsibility,” he said, admiringly.
Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Toby Davis