Manchester United have started the new Premier League season with a whole pile of mojo on show and fans are finally feeling that their side are Alex Ferguson-worthy once again.
After a bleak four seasons since the departure of the great Scot, Jose Mourinho, in his second term in charge, appears to have moulded a squad of players that are collectively showing all the hallmarks of title contenders.
Under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, United were a frail and faltering side, shriveling under the shadow of the recently departed Sir Alex Ferguson, with a single FA Cup title the only thing to boast about.
Mourinho’s first season in charge saw the club take home the League Cup and, for the first time, the Europa League trophy. Adding the Community Shield and suddenly there was a hoard of silverware to fill the already laden cabinets at Old Trafford.
While not a successful season by Premier League standards, Mourinho managed to guide United into the Champions League via the back door unlocked by their Europa League success.
With signings such as Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all contributing to United’s cause, green shoots of optimism were springing forth.
When Ibrahimovic suffered his knee ligament injury late on in the season, the collective concern of fans was palpable. What were United to do without their 28-goal striker?
To some, United’s release Ibrahimovic at the end of the season came as a surprise. After all, he had been a huge success at the club right?
Now, with a new contract signed, the ageing Swede is set to return in the new year, where it is assumed he will once again take his place at the head of United’s attack.
Having started the season in such imperious fashion, with 23 goals scored and only three conceded, there is no denying that United are back to their goal scoring best.
The arrival of Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic has offered real attacking options up front and with the likes of Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial all showing huge ambition this term, Mourinho is now guiding a group of genuine title contenders.
So what will the return of Ibrahimovic mean to those aforementioned stars?
Is Lukaku set to be benched while the elder-statesman pulls rank and acquires the strikers role in the starting XI? It is difficult to fathom the former Everton star could be benched when he has scored seven goals in as many appearance for United so far this term, but who knows.
Is Anthony Martial, who has seemingly overcome his off-field distractions of last season in order to be back to his blistering best, set to be relegated from the match day squad in order to make room for a rejigged side that features the 35-year-old, despite four goals from four appearances?
What also for Marcus Rashford, United’s 19-year-old goal-scoring machine? He has taken his chances this season and has repaid Mourinho with five goals from five appearances.
Even Pogba, who is currently out with a hamstring injury, has chipped in two a brace of goals and as many assists.
As a whole, United has found a system that is delivering and is doing so in irresistible fashion. Everyone is fighting hard for the team, tracking back, running, harrying, showing the intent and ambition that makes you a winner.
While Ibrahimovic is a proven winner and goal scorer, dare it be said that he is perhaps less inclined to do the dirty work?
Mind you, Lukaku is of a similar breed. As strikers, they will certainly do their bit but ultimately their eye is on the goal. Feed them the ball and they will invariably deliver.
At the end of the day, strikers and goal-scorers are confidence players. When they hit a rich vein of form, you don’t want to upset the apple cart and risk them going off the boil.
Right now, all of United’s weapons are firing and are doing so in ‘shock and awe’ fashion. Will the introduction of Ibrahimovic cause a misfire?
Still a number of months away form a return, United will continue to campaign on numerous fronts and invariably, there is bound to be a period when some need a break. Perhaps this is where the return of the big Swede will prove pivotal?
In a long season, teams need depth, with that depth including quality. Even at 35, Ibrahimovic gives Mourinho just that.
With a potential return set for the busy festive period, this could prove the perfect time for Mourinho to increase his arsenal, during a period when others could well be in need of a rest.
Ultimately, Mourinho must tread carefully. Too many cooks spoil the broth, as they say and nobody wants to see Ibrahimovic’s return at the expense of another.
However, a man of Ibrahimovic’s stature, longevity, proven worth and goal scoring prowess is simply too good not to have in a side. His experience alone counts for more than any of his teammates can collectively muster.
Yes, his reintroduction could well upset the apple cart but will it not be a true test of his teammate’s qualities to be able to accept increased competition in a side of stars and thrive?
Luckily, the manager has been around long enough to hopefully make the right call, at the right time.
Done right, United could well be on their way to Ferguson-esque season of domination.