On Sunday evening news broke that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is set to sign a new contract with Manchester United in the next week.
The charismatic striker posted a video to Instagram recently showing himself looking in fine physical shape while kicking a punching bag.
— Zlatan Ibrahimović (@Ibra_official) August 20, 2017
Ibrahimovic suffered a knee injury against Anderlecht in last season’s Europa League quarter-final, and the initial expectation was that the Swede would be out of action for the rest of 2017. The latest news emerging, however, is indicating that the former Malmo man may well be back even sooner than that.
United have strengthened significantly over the summer with additions such as Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku and the side is full of confidence after two successive 4-0 victories over West Ham and Swansea respectively to open their campaign. Lukaku has seemingly taken over Ibrahimovic’s role as the man leading the line and looks at home in the red jersey having scored three goals in his first two competitive starts.
Although it is still very early on in the campaign, with the team faring so well the question has to be asked – where does Ibrahimovic fit in?
If Zlatan does return sooner than expected he will more than likely have to accept a different role to the one he played so well last season. The 35-year-old scored 28 goals in a hugely impressive first season with the club and played a staggering 46 games up until his injury prematurely put an end to his season.
Lukaku is doing a fine job so far for United this season and at just 24 years of age, he should have a bright future at the club. The Belgium international is linking up well with the exciting but raw talent that is Marcus Rashford and with both Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata providing the creativity, United’s attack looks like it is well set-up for the season ahead. Anthony Martial has also started the season brilliantly despite being restricted to two substitute appearances and Jose Mourinho is certainly not short of attacking options.
Ibrahimovic cannot expect to fit into that starting XI given the way it is currently set up. Playing both Lukaku and the ex-Barca striker together in the same team would massively reduce United’s pace and dynamism in attack and should only be used in certain situations. Lukaku is surrounded by pace with the likes of Mkhitaryan, Rashford and Martial. This pace is key to United’s attack at the moment.
The only realistic spot for Ibrahimovic to fill would be that of Lukaku and he is simply undroppable at the moment. The former Sweden international can still play a hugely influential role, however, if he is willing to accept that he will not be first choice. No defender in the league is going to be thrilled by the sight of the 6ft 5in striker coming off the bench with 20 minutes remaining.
He would bring confidence to those around him and his presence on the pitch would be a great boost to his teammates. United are also making a return to Champions League football this season, which means that there will be some more opportunities for rotation and Ibrahimovic would certainly be a useful option should Lukaku be in need of a rest.
The 35-year-old had a major impact on the morale of the United squad last season and he appeared to be hugely inspiring for some of the younger players such as Paul Pogba and Rashford. His presence in the dressing room alone will be a boost to the squad as well as always keeping spirits up with his unique brand of humour and mischief.
United have been short of real leaders since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. The Scot’s teams were always famous for having great attacking options off the bench and this helped the team to so many late wins with the frequent late introductions of the likes of Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Martial has already been doing a fine job as an impact substitute so far this season and the additional option of Zlatan off the bench would give the squad a dangerous look to it.
If Mourinho can get the Swede to accept his new role of impact sub and morale booster, then Ibrahimovic could well have a big part to play in United’s season.
Kieran McCarthy, Pundit Arena