A spirited Sunderland display came to nothing as David Moyes’ Old Trafford return ended in defeat on Boxing Day.
The Black Cats set their stall out in the opening exchanges and could’ve sneaked in front had Patrick van Aanholt’s free-kick been an inch or two to the left of David De Gea’s outstretched arm.
Paul Pogba had a flurry of chances as United composed themselves, and with 38 minutes played Daley Blind made the hosts advantage pay as he found the bottom corner through a host of bodies.
Sunderland remained resolute, courtesy of a string of super-human saves from Jordan Pickford, before United pounced on two errors.
Two goals in four minutes saw United run riot as Ibrahimovic calmly slotted past Pickford on 82 minutes before Henrikh Mkhitaryan speculatively sealed a Boxing Day win.
Fabio Borini reduced the arrears late on with looping effort from the edge of the box, but it wasn’t enough to avoid defeat.
Moyes returned to Manchester United for the first time since departing the club in 2014 and made two changes to the team that defeated Watford last Saturday.
Seb Larsson came in for Adnan Januzaj who was ineligible due to the terms of his loan deal while Billy Jones returned from the treatment table in replace of former United youngster Donald Love who was named among the substitutes.
Meanwhile 17-year-old Elliot Embleton was handed the perfect Christmas present as he was named on Moyes’ bench for the first time.
Bidding to make it fiver straight wins, it was no surprise the hosts began the game in the ascendancy with Paul Pogba forcing Jordan Pickford to make a smart stop at his near post as he drilled the ball into the mix.
Sunderland sat deep and patiently waited for their moment to pounce as Pap Djilobodji’s shot on the turn smacked off Jermain Defoe before the 34-year-old had a chance himself following Pickford’s instinctive thinking.
Defoe plucked the ball out of the air effortlessly, drove at United’s back pedalling defenders and then sent a warning sign whistling past David De Gea’s post.
The Black Cats continued to smell blood and with 20 minutes played, Patrick van Aanholt forced the Spanish stopper to make a top drawer save from his curling free-kick.
While the Red Devils controlled the general ebb and flow of the game, Pickford remained largely untroubled between the sticks apart from two moments of Pogba brilliance.
The Frenchman firstly saw his effort flick the outside of the post before he later sent a half-volley looping perilously over the crossbar.
But just as the Black Cats looked to have forced the game into a lull, Blind’s late arrival into the box saw him weave his way past Jason Denayer and then arrow his strike through a crowd of bodies to give United the lead on 39 minutes.
United picked up where they left off after the break and laid siege on Sunderland’s goal, creating chance after chance to double their lead.
Somehow, someway though, Pickford came to the lads’ rescue time and time again, most notably denying Ibrahimovic with his feet as the Swede broke through one-on-one.
Second-half sub Mkhitaryan had hardly been on the pitch for 60 seconds, after replacing Jesse Lingard 61 minutes, when he bent an attempt inches wide of the far post with Pickford at full stretch.
Roared on by a vocal away support of over 3,000, Sunderland plucked away and continued to show fantastic spirit to keep themselves in the game.
But the Black Cats were unable to carve out a clear goalscoring chance with Defoe very much enduring a frustrating afternoon up top on his own.
Two goals in four minutes though ended Sunderland’s hopes of a late comeback, Ibrahimovic calmly netting United’s second as he went through one-on-one after the lads conceded possession cheaply on the edge of the box.
Sunderland failed to learn their lesson and just four minutes later, Denayer’s loose pass was picked up and the same end result happened.
This time, Mkhitaryan speculatively netted from seven yards following a fierce cross from the right flank.
Credit to Moyes’ side though who were rewarded for their continued efforts right at the death as Borini reduced the arrears with looping effort from the edge of the box.
Next stop, Turf Moor.
Manchester United: De Gea, Jones, Rojo, Pogba, Mata (Martial, 73), Ibrahimovic, Lingard (Mkhitaryan, 61), Carrick, Blind, Herrera, Valencia
Unused subs: Smalling, Rashford, Romero, Darmian
Sunderland: Pickford, Jones, van Aanholt, Denayer, Djilobodji, Larsson, Borini, Ndong, Defoe, Kone, Anichebe
Unused subs: Mannone, O’Shea, Asoro, Honeyman, Embleton