The impending return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be greeted by most at Manchester United with glee, but for maybe one or two, namely Marcus Rashford. The England international has been in electric form so far this season with two goals and three assists already, ensuring that we remain firmly at the top of the table, second only on goal difference.
But where does Rashford fit in a side that will almost certainly feature both Zlatan Ibrahimovi? and £90 million man Romelu Lukaku? It seems unfathomable that the iconic Swede, who scored 28 goals in all competitions for us last season, could be demoted to the bench and become a bit-part player, even at the ripe old age of 36.
Jose Mourinho doesn’t exactly have a reputation for bringing through youth players into the first team – whilst at Chelsea, he sanctioned the move that saw Kevin De Bruyne, depart for VfL Wolfsburg in 2014 for a measly £16.7 million, and we all know how that turned out…
However, the ‘Special One’ can be forgiven for making one or two mistakes; even the great Sir Alex Ferguson allowed Paul Pogba, one of the best central midfielders in the world, to depart for Juventus in 2012 on a free transfer, prior to his return in 2016 for a then world record £89.3 million.
It would be hard to imagine that Zlatan would have even contemplated signing a new contract with Manchester United, especially at a reported £220,000 pay cut, without certain guarantees from Jose about his role at the club once he regains fitness. After all, Manchester United is the only blemish on his otherwise perfect record. He has won league titles at every one of his former six clubs since leaving Malmo FF as a teenager, something which he is surely keen to make seven.
Only Stoke City have managed to break through our robust defensive line so far this season, a statistic that justifies our 7/2 odds for the title, behind Manchester City at 13/19. As correctly tipped by Oddschecker recently, United beat Southampton before dismantling Crystal Palace 4-0 later in September.
In the match on the south coast, a somewhat tougher game than most expected showed that Rashford has more to his game than his obvious goal threat with Jose Mourinho stating that Rashford turned in a “phenomenal” defensive performance in the win when deployed in a left-wing role. The 19-year-old shows positional maturity beyond his years and his work rate typifies that of what’s expected from a Jose Mourinho side.
Most of the joy for us came from the left flank thanks to an exquisite link-up play between Rashford and Mkhitaryan, which caused the home defence all kinds of problems in the first half.
Prior to the Southampton fixture, Rashford’s youthful exuberance had seen him score the opener in four of our last six competitive matches at the time and looks odds-on to continue in this rich vein of form against Liverpool.
It’s would seem that with our forward line running rampant so far season, we don’t need any more firepower in the shape of the 6’4″ Swede; however, it is worth noting that we are yet to play any team currently residing in the top half of the table.
The Red Devils come up against Liverpool after the international break, who, although looking rocky at the back, have an eye for goal themselves. The recent return of Sadio Manè from suspension will undoubtedly boost Liverpool’s chances, who will provide a whole different test for our back four than in recent weeks.
There are stark differences between Rashford and Ibrahimovic; pace versus power, exuberance versus experience, skill versus strength. Each has their merit but which will Mourinho favour?
It is no secret that Zlatan doesn’t place the biggest emphasis on defensive work rate, and with a record like his, can you really blame him? But can Manchester United really afford to carry another out-and-out striker alongside Lukaku? Or will Jose opt to maintain the defensive structure that has seen him become one of the world’s most sought-after managers, lifting major trophies across four countries, including the Champions League?
Only time will tell exactly where the big Swede will fit into Mourinho’s team but with him due back from injury just before Christmas, no one can argue that he won’t be a very welcome early Christmas present.