Manchester United took a massive step towards closing the gap to top four after blowing away Sunderland Athletic by 3 goals to nil at the Stadium of Light

Manchester United have developed a habit of feeling frustrated after several performances, with their inability to secure wins the main reason for them floundering outside the top four. However, on Sunday, the Red Devils returned to winning ways, with a thumping 3-0 win at the Stadium of Light.

Goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford ensured smooth sailing for Mourinho’s men, who piled more misery on their former manager David Moyes and his Sunderland side, who now find themselves 10 points adrift of safety, with just 7 games in hand.

We at The Hard Tackle take a closer look at some of the significant talking points to emerge from the result.

Rashford breaks his duck, finally

Marcus Rashford’s patience has finally paid off. The English international had failed to get himself on the scoresheet since September 2016, and while he did seem to be at his usual menacing best whenever played, there was a sense of him snatching at chances, which was likely down to the goal drought.

Jose Mourinho, though, did not criticise the player and instead threw his support behind him, saying that it was only a matter of time. Rashford did not start the match but with United 2-0 up and Jesse Lingard on a yellow, the forward was brought into the game by his manager to replace his fellow academy graduate.

And as the game drew to a close, the forward was played through by Paul Pogba. Rashford played it to Zlatan, who returned the ball, which was then sent thumping into the back of the net with a low drive by the teenager.

Marcus Rashford would be relieved to have ended the goal drought and the goal is likely to give him the confidence boost, which could provide him with the impetus to push on and be the difference in the crunch stage of United’s season.

A strong Shaw performance

A lot has been made of Jose Mourinho’s treatment of Luke Shaw. The player’s performance in the midweek was met with mild positivity by the Portuguese, who lamented that he was making majority of the decisions for the Englishman.

However, it seems the performance did have an impact on Mourinho, who chose to start Shaw on Sunday and the left-back responded with aplomb, as he bossed the left side of defence while also chipping in with an assist, his first in over a year.

In fact, Mourinho came out after the game and praised Shaw’s performance, stating that he brought Shaw off in the second half only to protect him, as he was on a yellow card. Shaw had been pushed to the fringes by Mourinho, who continuously questioned the player’s ability to work hard in training.

However, recent matches has shown that Shaw might have started his redemption; much like Mkhitaryan and Martial have already undergone this season.

Zlatan ‘Benjamin Button’ Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic opened the scoring for United, with a brilliant solo effort. The Swede had his back to the goal and suddenly opened up space for himself and let out a swerving shot, one which Pickford failed to save. The goal meant the 35-year-old has now racked up 17 goals in the Premier League alone, 28 in all competitions.

And the veteran has 10 assists to boot, another exemplary statistic for a warrior of a striker. He even labelled himself, hilariously, as a case similar to Benjamin Button, claiming that he is getting better with age.

The numbers do back him up, though, as he has scored more goals after turning 30 than he had before in his entire career. The Swede has shown his importance to Manchester United, and it would be intriguing to see whether the Red Devils manage to keep Zlatan at Old Trafford for another year.

Sunderland Defoe-nitely going down

Sunderland are in dire straits. The players look absolutely down, and the Black Cats look primed to go down as well. David Moyes came out after the defeat to say that his team will fight till it is mathematically impossible to be safe from relegation.

However, his side’s performance on the pitch was far from it. Yes, they did create chances and had 2-3 very good opportunities. But, when a team is facing the wall like Sunderland is, the players have to take these chances. Jermaine Defoe has brilliantly shouldered the mantle up until now.

But, a single man cannot save an entire club from relegation. That Patrick Van Aanholt, who is now not at the club, is the highest goalscorer in the league, with 3 to his name, after Jermaine Defoe’s 14, tells the entire story of how poor Sunderland’s attacking unit has been.

One cannot even fathom how far down Sunderland would have been, if not for Defoe. But, while Sunderland are set to go down, Defoe is likely to stay in the Premier League, with several clubs interested in his services.

Jordan will have his pick of the Premier League club next campaign

This is a transfer that is guaranteed to happen, regardless of whether Sunderland remain in the Premier League. Even on Sunday, despite conceding 3 goals, the Englishman produced 6 saves and was good in goal for the Black Cats, who could have conceded much more had it not been for Pickford.

The likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and many others have shown an interest in Pickford and it seems the most logical next step in his career. And Sunderland will most likely pocket a handsome amount for him, which they will have to invest logically if they are to come straight back up, if they are relegated.