On Saturday evening, with 76 minutes played between Manchester United and Newcastle United, a huge roar erupted from the Old Trafford crowd. However, the reaction did not occur because of a goal or a moment of magic on the pitch, but rather in response to Zlatan Ibrahimovic striding out of the dugout prior to being introduced as a late substitute.
The reaction of the Old Trafford faithful exemplified that the Swedish striker remains one of the most enthralling figures in modern football and was a heart-warming reminder that his exploits in his debut season with Manchester United had not been forgotten.
Ibrahimovic was making his first appearance in almost seven months after he had suffered a severe knee ligament injury in a Europa League tie back in April.
The fact that the 36-year-old has been able to recover from such a setback in such a short period of time is astonishing and his athletic scissor kick in the closing moments of Saturday’s contest, which was tipped wide of the post by Rob Elliot, suggested that the Swede is physically back to his best.
However, Ibrahimovic’s return poses Jose Mourinho some difficult questions and also increases the pressure on Manchester United’s current forward line, including record signing Romelu Lukaku.
A nice problem to have
When Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his return on Saturday evening it was perhaps symbolic that the Swede’s introduction resulted in Romelu Lukaku being forced to play on the left of a front three.
It will have been a purposeful reminder to Manchester United’s top goal scorer that he is no longer the only striker who will be vying to spearhead Jose Mourinho’s attack.
In truth, Lukaku has made a positive start to his career at Old Trafford, scoring 12 goals in all competitions so far this season.
However, for the most part, the Belgian has been Manchester United’s main man and has been guaranteed a spot in Mourinho’s starting line-up regardless of form, fitness or opposition in the opening months of the campaign.
This has been exemplified in recent weeks where Lukaku received criticism from some quarters after going seven games without finding the back of the net and his manager’s unwavering faith and continuous selection.
Ibrahimovic’s return changes the picture and Lukaku suddenly has a genuine world-class player breathing down his neck and competing for the same position in Manchester United’s starting eleven.
If the Belgian was to go another seven games without scoring, then it is very likely that he would be swiftly replaced by the Swede.
Lukaku ended his goal draught at the weekend, thumping his close range striker beyond Rob Elliot in the Newcastle United net with apparent fury, but it remains to be seen what impact Ibrahimovic’s return will have.
The immediate test will be of the Belgian’s character – how will he perform under the pressure of the Swede breathing down his neck? It may be that it pushes Lukaku to perform better than ever before, or it could lead to a crisis of confidence.
Ibrahimovic’s return means that Manchester United suddenly have an abundance of attacking options at their disposal and the competition for places will certainly be seen as a positive by Mourinho.
He suddenly has two world-class striker’s competing for a place in his starting eleven and he will be hoping that a friendly rivalry between the pair will help to enhance their performances on the pitch.
Who to start: Romelu Lukaku or Zlatan Ibramhimovic? It is a certainly a nice problem for Mourinho to have.
Is a Luke Shaw for Danny Rose swap deal a no-brainer transfer?
Shaw and Rose have both struggled at Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, respectively, this season.
It looks as though Manchester United left-back Luke Shaw will be leaving Old Trafford this summer. The BBC report the England international will seek an exit after his latest stinging criticism from Jose Mourinho.
Shaw has struggled to win over the Portuguese since Mourinho became United manager. Now it seems the end of the tether has been located and Shaw will make an exit. The 22-year-old, who cost a fee reported by the BBC to be in the region of £27 million in 2014, will not be short of suitors.
Despite his struggles at Manchester United since suffering a horror leg break, Shaw is considered one of the best young left-backs in the game.
The obvious solution should be clear and for Shaw certainly desired. A move to Tottenham Hotspur must be his wish.
Shaw came through the ranks at Southampton and became an England international under the coaching of Mauricio Pochettino. The pair had a special bond and Shaw has confirmed a desire to work with the Argentine again. He wrote in Guillem Balague’s book Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs, as reported by Sky Sports:
“I do hope that I can play for him again one day. And I think he really wants me to play under him again.
“He used to call me his son, that’s how good our relationship was. I’ve had lots of ups and downs, but when I was with Pochettino it was only ever up, up, up.”
It is a similar relationship to the one many have suggested Pochettino had with his current Tottenham left-back Danny Rose. That relationship, however, has been in decline. After appearing to suggest he wanted a Spurs exit last summer, and after a battle with injury, Rose has become second-fiddle at Spurs to Welshman Ben Davies.
Rose, originally from Leeds, is known to eventually want a return north and Shaw will no doubt love a move south. There is an obvious solution on the cards here.
Manchester United would love to bring in Rose and finally fill their problem position of left-back. Shaw needs to leave Old Trafford for a fresh start to his career. Working under the man he once considered a father figure could be just what he needs.
Shaw to Tottenham and Rose to Manchester United seems a no-brainer. Time will tell if either move comes off for these two players searching for fresh impetus in their careers.
Jose Mourinho should build Manchester United around Marcus Rashford
Marcus Rashford returned with a bang against local rivals Liverpool on Saturday.
In his first Premier League start since Boxing Day, Marcus Rashford inspired Manchester United to victory over fierce rivals Liverpool. The 20-year-old’s first-half brace was the perfect way to mark his return to the starting XI, which had been confirmed following an injury to Paul Pogba.
Rashford has been a peripheral figure since Alexis Sanchez joined the club in the January transfer window. But, in arguably the biggest fixture on the Premier League calendar, the England international grabbed with both hands a rare opportunity to impress as United moved five points clear of Liverpool.
There was no evidence that Rashford’s prolonged spell out of favour had affected his self-confidence. His first goal was bursting with skill and composure. After latching on to a long ball from Lukaku, Rashford bamboozled Trent Alexander-Arnold before firing past Loris Karius.
Although his second found the net with the aid of a deflection, once again it was a testament to his sharpness. Despite his limited game time, that’s now 12 goals in all competitions this season for the World Cup hopeful.
Rashford’s stunning contribution will certainly give Jose Mourinho food for thought. The Portuguese has regularly picked Pogba, Sanchez, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard ahead of Rashford of late, in the attacking trio behind Romelu Lukaku.
While Martial and Lingard have justified their selections, the same cannot be said of Pogba, who at times has looked uninterested. Sanchez too has yet to exhibit his best form in a United shirt since joining from Arsenal.
History has taught us that Mourinho rarely excludes his high-profile players, regardless of form. Had Pogba not been sidelined through injury, it is entirely likely Rashford would once again have been forced to watch on from the bench. Consequently, what transpired against Liverpool might have been a mere fantasy.
United have a proud tradition of producing homegrown players and not relying on foreign imports. Look at the treble-winning side of 1999, whose success was founded upon a British core.
Admittedly, the landscape has changed dramatically in the past two decades. The riches of the Premier League mean a club of United’s stature is able to cherry-pick the world’s best players. But just because they can, doesn’t mean they should. The club’s identity is sacred and, in recent times, United have been in danger of losing theirs.
The fact that Rashford was not signed for £75 million should not preclude him from being United’s centrepiece. As he reminded everyone in his performance against Liverpool, he has all the talent required to be a fixture at the club for years to come.
However, he needs to be playing regular football. A few minutes here and there will not accelerate his development. On the contrary, it could risk one of this country’s most promising starlets becoming an unfulfilled talent.
Rashford offers United something different from his team-mates. He gets supporters off their seats and electrifies the atmosphere thanks to his blistering pace and trickery, which in many ways is a throwback to the Sir Alex Ferguson era at Old Trafford.
These are qualities not usually associated with Mourinho, who throughout his time in management has always demanded his players to be tactically aware. Rashford is a wildcard, the ace in the pack that can conjure something out of nothing.
Forget Pogba and Sanchez, If Mourinho gives Rashford an extended run in the team, he and United will flourish.
Are Manchester United finding form at the perfect time?
Jose Mourinho out-smarted Jurgen Klopp on Saturday to strengthen Manchester United’s grasp on 2nd.
Manchester United have been criticised for their style of play this season, while some have suggested they are a team of individuals. However, they delivered a very good performance to beat rivals Liverpool to build up a five-point lead in second place.
Jose Mourinho will be delighted with the effort and cutting edge of his team, as he got the better of Jurgen Klopp in a huge game to strengthen his team’s position in the top four.
Paul Pogba missed out through injury, which would have been a disappointment before a ball was kicked. However, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic dominated the midfield areas with 13 ball recoveries in the ninety minutes. Ahead of them, Juan Mata added creativity and an attacking threat, especially in the first-half.
The Spaniard came close to scoring before the break with an overhead kick effort and his distribution was nearly faultless, as he finished the match with a 90% pass success rate.
The 29-year-old has had problems with Mourinho in the past, but he has emerged as a great squad option, especially in big matches. In addition to his nice touches on the ball, he made three ball recoveries. This underlines how he has bought into the style of his manager.
Marcus Rashford was another player to come into the team and he showed why he was selected as he scored twice to put Manchester United into a commanding first-half lead. His two goals were similar as they both came from Romelu Lukaku knock-ons. Mourinho knew Liverpool could be targeted with a direct approach and it worked.
The first showed great movement from Rashford as he gambled on his team-mate winning the ball and that gave him the march on the Liverpool defenders. He then coolly dropped a shoulder and cut inside before firing past Loris Karius. It showed impressive composure and skill in the final third. The England international has sometimes struggled with his final ball, but he was back to his best on Saturday.
He then added a second that once again showed his excellent finishing ability. Another long ball caused chaos, but it didn’t go directly to Rashford this time. When it did drop at his feet on the edge of the area, he delivered a perfectly measured shot to make it 2-0. It is now up to the 20-year-old to push on over the coming weeks to become a regular starter for club and country.
Jose Mourinho flourishes when he is defending a lead. He prefers to control matches without possession and that was the case on Saturday as his team had only 31.9% of possession. Liverpool had 14 attempts to Manchester United’s five, but the result was never in doubt.
That is highlighted by the expected goals. Michael Caley’s model valued the home side’s chances created at exactly 1.0, while it valued Liverpool’s opportunities at 0.8.
To put this into context, Manchester United had less possession and had fewer attempts, but they created the better chances and kept an in-form Liverpool attack relatively quiet.
The finish was made nervy by an unfortunate own goal from Eric Bailly. The defender couldn’t repeat what he managed even if he tried and it is difficult to prepare for such a bad piece of luck. Luckily for Mourinho, his side had a two-goal lead and the own goal didn’t push them.
The majority of Manchester United players can be pleased with their performances, but Ashley Young was perhaps the standout player. The 32-year-old made 10 ball recoveries and made five clearances to help the defensive effort.
Mohamed Salah was rarely in the game and the England international deserves huge credit for his role in that. He was disciplined and rarely ventured forwards. If he can continue to perform to that level, he would emerge as a great World Cup option for Gareth Southgate.
The past week for Manchester United has been a positive one and it should provide them with momentum to finish the season strongly. They showed great spirit to fight back from 2-0 down at Selhurst Park to get three points and they displayed excellent game-management to dispatch of one of their rivals.
They are now in a good position to finish second and that would be an achievement of sorts given the consistency of Manchester City. In addition to that, they can target Champions League success.
They aren’t one of the frontrunners for the competition, but they are good at managing games and have beaten now Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham at Old Trafford. If they can improve away from home, they could reach their peak at the perfect time.
Jose Mourinho has a record of doing that and this result should encourage supporters that this season could follow a similar pattern.
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