The softest hat trick of Zlatan's career gives Man United 3-0 Europa League lead over Saint-Etienne

Zlatan continues to score goals. (Getty Images)
Zlatan continues to score goals. (Getty Images)

The first was a free kick that snuck under the wall, deflected through a pair of legs, wrong-footed the goalkeeper and slowly skittered over the line.

The second was a tap-in that he literally didn’t even have to move for.

The third was a penalty that he won and converted himself.

[ FC Yahoo: Twitter | Facebook | Tumblr | Blog ]

Zlatan Ibrahimovic had rather a comfortable day at the office as Manchester United beat Saint-Etienne 3-0 in the first leg of their Europa League round of 32 tie on Thursday. In his four years with Paris Saint-Germain in the French league, the veteran Swedish striker had punished Saint-Etienne with 14 goals in 13 contests. He casually made that 17 in 14 as he met his old whipping boys for the first time with the Red Devils.

[ Newsletter: Get 5 great stories from Yahoo Sports blogs in your inbox every day! ]

Early on, Saint-Etienne rather rattled United, which made some awkward miscues in the back. But the French visitors didn’t exploit this shaky start. And after a quarter of an hour, the Zlatan Show opened.

His free kick was hit low and really shouldn’t have made it past Stephane Ruffier. But for all of Saint-Etienne’s good intentions and optimism, it would mostly be undone by bad luck.

United made a concerted push for more goals in hopes of making the second leg a week later a formality. Juan Mata hit a violent volley one-on-one with Ruffier, but the goalie was equal to it.

Zlatan came close twice, with a headed goal rightly disallowed for offside and another header just dinked over, possibly by defender Loic Perrin’s hand. Anthony Martial absolutely hammered a shot to the near post, but did so right at Ruffier.

After the hour, Paul Pogba, facing his older brother Florentin, spun into space and fired off a beautiful left-footed curler that only just missed the far post.

Daley Blind sent in a sumptuous free kick, but Pogba only managed to nod it off the bar.

For Saint-Etienne, its last best chance of making a game of it came in the 73rd minute, when Nolan Roux chipped his finish just over Sergio Romero’s goal on a nice play.

Because thereafter, Zlatan put the game away. Marcus Rashford casually loped through the Saint-Etienne defense, which didn’t bother him much. His low square ball to the far post found Zlatan, who didn’t need to bother displacing himself to tap it home.

In the 87th minute, Zlatan had the ball in the box and basically held onto it, hanging out there until somebody kicked him and he could go down. It was Kevin Theofile-Catherine who obliged him.

Zlatan made simple work of the penalty.

Game. Set. Zlatan.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

What to Read Next