Zlatan Ibrahimovic

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United and Kevin Monnet-Paquet of Saint-Etienne in action during the UEFA Europa  League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

UEL: Saint-Etienne hope Beric comes to the rescue vs. Man United

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PARIS (AP) While Zlatan Ibrahimovic was scoring a hat trick in Manchester United’s win over Saint-Etienne in the Europa League last week, Robert Beric’s 11-minute substitute appearance at Old Trafford was barely noticed.

Still reeling from a hamstring injury, Beric’s cameo had little impact as Ibrahimovic ended Saint-Etienne’s 10-game unbeaten run in Europe by 3-0.

[ MORE: Man City win in epic comeback vs. Monaco | Atleti blitz Bayer ]

Beric’s condition has improved since the heavy loss, and he featured in a French league game in Montpellier last weekend. The 1976 European Cup runner-up is hoping that’s enough for Beric to help it overturn their deficit against United on Wednesday in the last-32 return leg.

Beric, a versatile center-forward capable of playing with his back to goal and creating, joined Saint-Etienne last season. He’d scored 27 goals in 34 matches in his final season with Rapid Vienna, but was unable to replicate the feat in the French league because his progression was abruptly stopped by a serious right knee injury.

He is expected to start at Geoffroy Guichard Stadium after his teammates managed to force United goalkeeper Sergio Romero into only a single save from 14 shots last week.

“Beric is so skillful and astute in front of goal that we all want to give him a starting nod,” former Saint-Etienne striker Herve Revelli, now a club ambassador, told L’Equipe.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

United was carved open at times, but the French club was made to pay for its blatant lack of efficiency. Revelli insisted Beric can make a difference.

“He is likely to put our chances into the back of the net,” Revelli said.

With an estimated budget of close to 70 million euros, Saint-Etienne simply can’t afford the services of a world-class striker. When he joined the 10-time French champion for a reported six million euros, Beric became the third most expensive player signed by the club.

A humble player and a man of few words, Beric is somewhat the opposite of the self-infatuated Ibrahimovic.

Unlike Ibrahimovic, who once said he will be “God of Manchester,” Beric rarely speaks about himself and his rare comments on social networks are limited to praise of his teammates and Saint-Etienne fans.

Beric, who scored the last of his three league goals this season back in September, is not yet fully fit and should not be able to last the whole match. But Revelli is counting on his instinct for goals.

[ MORE: Guardiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” ]

“With him in a finisher role, I firmly believe in our chances,” said Revelli, Saint-Etienne’s all-time best scorer.

Saint-Etienne needs to find a way to stop Ibrahimovic, but history does not favor the home side.

During his time in France with Paris Saint-Gernain, Ibrahimovic was the scourge of Saint-Etienne, scoring 14 goals in 13 games in all competitions. He now has 17, including three hat tricks.

“It’s difficult to neutralize him. There is a possibility that we will set up an anti-Ibra plan,” Saint-Etienne coach Chirstophe Galtier said. “I don’t know what’s inside Zlatan, but for sure he likes to play against us. It’s not easy to score a hat trick in a European Cup game.”

FA Cup: Zlatan completes Man Utd’s comeback against Blackburn

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 15:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United (front) celebrates with team mates as he scores their first and equalising goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on January 15, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Manchester United are through as the sixth of eight sides who will eventually make up the quarterfinal round of the FA Cup, thanks to a 2-1 come-from-behind victory away to Blackburn Rovers on Sunday.

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup — Premier League sides underwhelm in 5th round ]

The first half saw Blackburn race out to an early lead in the 17th minute, when Marvin Emnes set up Danny Graham with an inch-perfect through ball. Chris Smalling was out of line with the rest of Man United’s defenders, holding Graham onside, and the 31-year-old was pinpoint with his far-post strike.

United responded quickly, though, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan‘s made Emnes’s earlier work look pedestrian. The Armenian’s pass sent Marcus Rashford in on goal, which made rounding Jason Steele quite easy, and the empty-net finish even easier (WATCH HERE).

Following the halftime break, United enjoyed mostly one-way traffic, without anything so much as resembling an end product. Until the hour mark, that is, when Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba came off the bench to replace Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial. 13 minutes after their joint-introduction, Pogba found Ibrahimovic with a long ball over the top, and the big Swede found the back of the net.

Blackburn thought they’d grab a late equalizer, in the 86th minute, but Sergio Romero made a pair of stunning saves in back-to-back fashion, before Anthony Stokes hit home the rebound. The assistant referee correctly ruled him to be offside, though, and United were through.

[ MORE: Fifth-division Lincoln City shock PL side Burnley in FA Cup ]

Elsewhere in the FA Cup

Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City — RECAP | REACTION
Huddersfield Town 0-0 Manchester City
Middlesbrough 3-2 Oxford United
Millwall 1-0 Leicester City
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Chelsea
Fulham 0-3 Tottenham Hotspur

Monday’s FA Cup schedule

Sutton United vs. Arsenal — 2:55 p.m. ET

Comparing yourself to Indiana Jones is daring to Zlatan

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United in action during the UEFA Europa  League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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But does he hate snakes?

UEFA Europa League hat trick hero Zlatan Ibrahimovic compared himself to Indiana Jones following Thursday’s 3-0 win over Saint-Etienne.

[ WATCH: Costa’s aggressive dance moves ]

So while manager Jose Mourinho was not happy with his side’s performance against Saint-Etienne, clearly Ibrahimovic was feeling a bit more jovial. From Sky Sports:

“Every trophy for me is incredible, everywhere I came I won so if I can win something here I will be super happy,” he said.

“People that know me know that I play in many clubs and I try to do my best. Wherever I went I won – so I am like Indiana Jones.”

I also like to imagine that Ibrahimovic has a father or grandfather who is the Scandinavian equivalent of Sean Connery.

Never change, Zlatan.

Jose Mourinho says Man United played poorly vs. St. Etienne

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United looks on during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Manchester United cruised past St. Etienne 3-0 at Old Trafford thanks to a hat-trick from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, bringing a sizeable lead into the second leg in France.

However, manager Jose Mourinho wasn’t pleased with the performance. Not at all.

“The first half we played so bad,” Mourinho said. “We managed to finish the first half winning 1-0 and we didn’t deserve [it].”

It’s a harsh assessment from Mourinho, but the boss is right. The Red Devils were forced to defend frantically on multiple occasions, with defender Eric Bailly providing a number of important blocks despite seeing himself beaten by visiting attackers. Nolan Roux missed a fabulous chance for the French side late, adding to United’s frustrations for letting him free.

One Manchester United player who had a fabulous match was Paul Pogba, who played well despite a poor finishing on the attacking end. Even so, Mourinho was caught screaming at Pogba for a back-pass towards the end of the first half instead of pushing play forward like the manager wanted.

Mourinho was even frustrated with the calm demeanor before the match, wishing his players would focus better.

On the other end, Ibrahimovic’s hat-trick wasn’t the prettiest he’s ever scored, getting goals on a deflected free-kick, a tap-in after great work by Marcus Rashford, and a soft penalty in the dying minutes.

Mourinho said after the match that he will start a strong side against Blackburn in the FA Cup on Sunday.

Zlatan hat-trick sees Man United past St. Etienne 3-0

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates scoring his sides second goal with Jesse Lingard of Manchester United  during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t exactly how Zlatan Ibrahimovic – he with a flair for the dramatic – drew it up, but he’ll take it.

Zlatan scored a hat trick as Manchester United snuck by St. Etienne 3-0 in the first leg of their Europa League matchup at Old Trafford. The French side had a number of good chances in the first half, but couldn’t capitalize to draw level, and they faded in the second half as the English club pushed them.

The star Manchester United striker delivered a close-range free-kick that clipped a defender on its way through the wall and trickled into the back of the net for the opener just 15 minutes in. The initial foul was contentious, as Zlatan looked to seek out contact to earn the set-piece.

Zlatan picked out the second as well, but he didn’t have to do any of the hard work. Marcus Rashford burst down the left past numerous green shirts, and delivered a pinpoint low ball across the face of goal to an unmarked Ibrahimovic who simply tapped home the ball.

Paul Pogba was bright throughout the match, and he nearly had United’s second on the hour mark when he undressed Jordan Veretout with a brilliant spin move and ripped a shot that beat goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier but beat the post. Pogba again came close (and probably should have scored) as Daley Blind delivered an exquisite free-kick right to the head of Pogba at the far post, but he couldn’t get the header down, instead clanging the crossbar.

St. Etienne had its best chance in the 73rd minute as substitute Nolan Roux chipped a one-on-one opportunity with United goalkeeper Sergio Romero over the crossbar with nobody else to challenge the shot. Zlatan scored his second goal shortly after.

The match pitted Paul Pogba against his brother Florentin, but it was the Manchester United star who had the better of his brother on the day as Florentin was substituted off with 12 minutes to go due to injury. Zlatan’s final came late on as he was bundled over in the box softly, and he buried the chance from the spot to put the Red Devils through without a doubt.