With six points from six, Manchester United sit tied with crosstown rivals Manchester City atop the English Premier League. The five goals scored compared to the only one conceded demonstrate the confidence and quality United have started this season with, and the club is already beginning to look transformed under Jose Mourinho.
However, the tactical changes and big-money signings Mourinho has made are only part of the reason behind the success the ‘special one’ has achieved so quickly. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has won everything in club football except a Champions League trophy, has been the catalyst for the Red Devils’ turnaround.
Three goals in two games – four in three if the Community Shield is counted – has Ibrahimovic as an early favourite to win the Premier League Golden Boot award.
His dominance in leading the line for United has brought the team an attacking presence it has lacked for years. Wayne Rooney’s decline since 2010 has left the team with a void at the No. 9 position; something Ibrahimovic has relished fulfilling since arriving.
While the addition of Paul Pogba will perhaps be more focused upon given it has taken a world-record transfer fee to get him back to Manchester United, it is, in fact, Ibrahimovic’s arrival that has had more of an influence on the positive changes United are already beginning to see. Last season the team scored a paltry 49 goals, the lowest return of any team in the Premier League’s top eight. Meanwhile, Ibrahimovic alone scored 38 in France’s Ligue 1, and five more in the Champions League.
This season the club have already scored five goals in their opening two fixtures, a tally that took five matches to reach in 2015-16. Though early days, supporters will be encouraged to see that much of that total has been courtesy of Ibrahimovic’s play at the top of Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
It hasn’t just been the Red Devils that Ibrahimovic has seemed to influence almost single-handedly improve. At almost every club the Swede has played at, he has made those around him better and acted as the talisman. While at AC Milan for example, it was Ibrahimovic’s influence on Antonio Nocerino that turned him into one of the best players of the 2011-12 Serie A season. Bought for €500,000, Nocerino went on to score 10 Serie A goals in 35 matches. He was also a major positive factor in Milan’s Champions League performances that season. When Ibrahimovic left for Paris Saint-Germain the following summer, Nocerino and many of Milan’s substandard stars fell to the wayside.
Mourinho and Manchester United will be hoping Zlatan can have a similar effect on the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial at Old Trafford. The French forward has looked brilliant and has notched two assists already. His exciting pace on the left wing has been a perfect match to Ibrahimovic’s penalty box assault.
Meanwhile, record signing Pogba has the privilege of Ibrahimovic taking the pressure off his expensive shoulders and a moment of magic can easily overshadow a bad performance from the striker.
Ibrahimovic’s reputation precedes him, and the most important thing that any football fan should remember is, the Swede wins trophies. The 34-year-old has already shown that he is more than capable of contributing in the Premier League despite his age, and United’s transfer activity this summer has proven to have been inspired as a result. Fans may have had to wait three long years to return to the place they feel they belong, but those three years will seem worth it if United pip city rival Manchester City to the Premier League trophy.