On Thursday, while their fans were eagerly waiting to find out who their opponents in the Champions League group stages were going to be, Manchester United announced that Zlatan Ibrahimovic had signed another year-long contract with the club. It was not a major surprise, as the club had continued to make their training and medical facilities available to the Swede even after releasing him in June.
Manchester United released an interesting short video to announce the deal. The video showed Zlatan wearing a no. 10 shirt and then walking away from the camera. The striker wore no. 9 last season, but that number is no longer available as Lukaku has taken no. 9 this season, after taking the Swede’s permission.
After Zlatan’s last performance last season – 28 goals in 46 games, most Manchester United fans will be cheering this news. However, a few murmurs of concern are also floating around as the fans worry about how Jose Mourinho will accommodate his two-star strikers in the lineup when Zlatan becomes available for selection later in the year.
In this post, we examine the positives and negatives of Zlatan’s return to Manchester United. Would his return improve the Red Devils’ chances of winning the Premier League or would they hamper them?
+ Zlatan Provides Jose with Options
Manchester United started the season with two designated strikers in Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford. Although Anthony Martial can play as a centre forward, Jose prefers him on the wings. In a season that can have more than 50 games depending on the progress, the Red Devils make in each competition, having just two strikers could have limited Jose’s options.
Zlatan gives one more option to Jose, just in case his primary striker is injured or if he wants to change the formation to include two strikers. This can be of immense value when opponents start preparing tactics to counter Jose’s primary formation.
+ Zlatan’s Ambition
In his first interview after signing, in his inimitable style, Zlatan said, “I’ve come back to finish what I started.” This was in response to being asked if he returned to Manchester United to win the Premier League title. Zlatan has won league titles in every league, and for every team, he has played for. So, a Premier League title is definitely something that the Swede is targeting. This ambition is, of course, good news for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United fans.
+ His Ability
Zlatan is going to be 36 years old this October. By this age, most footballers are thinking of retirement or playing in leagues such as MLS. But Zlatan wants to win a Premier League title. Zlatan also knows that he has the ability to propel the Red Devils to the title.
He gave ample proof last season scoring 28 goals in 46 games across all competitions. In the league, in 28 appearances he scored 17 and assisted 5 goals. He contributed a goal every 110 minutes. All this was done, despite the defensive tactics that Mourinho usually employed in the league. Manchester United fans will be eager to find out how their star striker responds to a more attacking set of tactics this season.
– Zlatan Needs to Start
Before joining Manchester United last season, Zlatan had started as a substitute only six times in 250 matches across six seasons. Last season as well, he was substituted in only once. Wherever Zlatan plays, he demands to start. This is good if he is the primary striker in the squad, but Jose has Lukaku, who himself would not like to get assigned to a secondary role.
– Tactical Changes Required
To accommodate both his alpha-strikers, when Ibrahimovic becomes available, Jose will need to change his tactics. It is possible that to preserve the squad harmony what was going to be a tactical option for Jose will become a compulsion, forcing Jose to change other aspects of his Manchester United squad.
He might have to sacrifice one of his creative midfielders or one of his defensive options. Either way, Jose will not be very enthused by the idea. 4-2-3-1 is Jose’s preferred formation and to accommodate both Zlatan and Lukaku, he will need to change it.
– Style Changes Required
Perhaps Zlatan’s physicality demands that the team plays a slightly more direct style of football. Jose employed this direct football style last season but ended up with a bagful of scoreless draws. This season, to ensure that does not happen Jose brought in Lukaku and Nemanja Matic. But if Zlatan’s inclusion in the team leads to tactics like last season, then it will definitely be a step backwards.
Zlatan’s return should be great news for Manchester United fans. He can give an edge to the team that can propel them to a league title and even European progress. But, he can also destabilise the team that has started the league campaign so well. To ensure that this does not happen, Jose Mourinho needs to adapt his tactics to suit the stars available to him, set the expectations for all his players and also smartly rotate his team.