Zlatan Ibrahimovic, without doubt, surpassed the expectations of football fans with his performances for Manchester United before he was knocked out by a long term injury. The big Swede is United’s leading scorer, and United will miss his contributions. However the injury is more of a blessing to the Red Devils…
For starters, Ibrahimovic has scored a lot of goals for United, but he has also been a massive drag on the team. Ibra is 35, and although a natural-born goal scorer who has kept himself very fit, he is 35 and it shows. Ibra plays measured football, and he slows down Manchester United attack. Jose Mourinho likes tactics that is built on speed: speed in defence, then switching to lightening attacks. Zlatan scored goals, but not goals like that.Mourinho is a no-nonsense manager. He is never afraid to wield the big stick and drop or substitute players if he feels they are not optimising his game plan. However, Jose tends to have soft spots for certain players; Branislav Ivanovic was one of his blindspots at Chelsea last season, Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba are his blindspots at United this season. Mourinho dropped every player except these two. There is no player at United with more than 15 League starts, that hasn’t been taken off, or started a League game from the bench, more than once …except Ibra and Pogba. Zlatan’s injury therefore, has reduced United’s liability to only one (when Pogba is pedestrian)
The injury suffered by the Swede has brought unpredictability back to the United front-line. At start of the season, three players were guaranteed starting places: De Gea, Pogba and Ibrahimovic. Then it became two players. Teams therefore know what to expect: Pogba will start, Ibra will start, and the midfielder’s will look for Ibra more than whoever is playing upfront with him. All that has ended now. The end was probably in sight when Ibra was dropped from the starting line-up for the Chelsea game, and the team delivered an aggressive and pacey performance that stunned the League leaders. But the injury has now guaranteed that Mourinho will not be tempted to re-instate the Swede.
The arrival of Ibrahimovic may have slowed the development of (the understanding between) Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. Rashford made 11 starts in the League last season, came on as substitute seven times and was an unused substitute twice. Martial made 31 starts, was taken off twice and came on as a substitute twice.
This season, with Ibra a guaranteed starter, Martial made only 19 starts and was hauled off six times, and has played 10 times as a substitute. Rashford’s statistics are only slightly better; he’s started 27 games but was hauled-off 13 times. And although he was named substitute 18 times, he came on, on only seven occasions. The two lads who contributed 16 goals between them last season, have scored a joint total of nine so far this season.
With Ibrahimovic injured, Mourinho will not be tempted to renew the contract of the Swede when the season ends, and from what we have seen so far in the last two games, United may not need the big Swede anymore.