Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Mourinho must resist temptation to draft Swede in for Lukaku
"I UNITED it."
A simple phrase by Zlatan Ibrahimovic to confirm his new one-year deal at Manchester United. The eye catching side of the tweet, though, was that the enigmatic Swede depicted himself as God arm wrestling the devil.
Only Ibrahimovic has the audacity to suggest something as outlandish, though his persona is undoubtedly a draw to supporters. When United initially confirmed his signing 12 months ago, fans were understandably excited about the 35-year-old's move to Old Trafford
United had been crying out for a leader in the final third, particularly in the wake of Robin van Persie's move to Fenerbahce in 2015. Wayne Rooney's declining form also meant a new forward was of the utmost importance last summer, even if youngster Marcus Rashford had impressed having been thrust into first team action. Jose Mourinho was keen to add experience to the frontline and Ibrahimovic packed this, and more, in abundance.
The striker and manager had only worked together once in the past - a solitary season with Inter - yet theirs is a working relationship that was a perfect fit from the get go. Two strong personalities may clash, but Mourinho and Ibrahimovic are ideal for one another. The latter may have endured a dip in form in the earlier months of the campaign, however there is no denying that he enjoyed success in his debut season at Old Trafford. Even after his season-ending injury against Anderlecht back in April, Ibrahimovic still scored more league goals (17) than any other United player.
That being said, there is a good argument to be made that United are now a far better side without Ibrahimovic in the immediate starting XI. This isn't to say he is not a world class striker, but when he was unavailable at the end of last season, Mourinho's side were a far more fluid and aesthetically pleasing outfit. With Rashford leading the line, there was constant movement in the final third that meant United were less one dimensional. Similar has occurred this term with Romelu Lukaku spearheading the attack.
United have won their opening two games 4-0, ensuring that they scored four or more goals in their opening two top-flight games for the first time since the 1907/08 campaign. Lukaku's intelligence off the ball to make the right runs at the right time, not to mention his goalscoring prowess, has propelled United to the top of the table as they start the season at full throttle. Indeed, they are 3.60 to win the Premier League title this season behind rivals Manchester City (2.50), while Lukaku is favourite to land the golden boot award at 3.35.
With Ibrahimovic now remaining at the club until next summer at the earliest, Lukaku has the chance to work with the former to improve his all round game and provide stiff competition for a starting spot, yet Mourinho must resist the temptation to call upon Ibrahimovic at Lukaku's expense.
There is no denying that the former Paris Saint-Germain star improves United's striking options, yet he is not without his deficiencies. Ibrahimovic was flagged offside more times (37) than any other Premier League player last season, while the experienced forward missed more clear-cut chances (18) than any other player.
A willingness to drop deep allows for those operating behind Ibrahimovic the chance to make runs in behind the defence, but then this relied heavily on the striker to successfully hold off defenders before picking the right pass. In Lukaku, United now have a forward capable of both holding up the ball and to make surging runs beyond the defence, allowing for a more cohesive United side. If the opening two games of the season are anything to go by, then the attack at Mourinho's disposal is better off without Ibrahimovic.
Nevertheless, there remains a place in the squad for Ibrahimovic. Lukaku can't play every game and if the going gets tough, and United need a direct attacking option where required, then Ibrahimovic is a handy frontman off the bench. Mourinho has made a habit of enjoying domestic success in his second season at a club and this campaign could be no different for the Portuguese boss.
To achieve glory, though, the United manager needs to build his attack around Lukaku rather than Ibrahimovic or the club risks being held back in their pursuit of the Premier League crown.
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