It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Zlatan Ibrahimović has been the most impactful transfer in the Premier League this season. Having arrived for free at Manchester United, the temperamental Swede has gone on to score 26 goals already and has led the Red Devils to a major honour this season after scoring the winning goal in the EFL Cup final. He also scored the winning goal in United’s FA Community Shield win over Leicester City.
However, the past weekend would be one that he would want to forget very soon. The 35-year old put in his worst display in United colours, at home against Bournemouth on Saturday.
Ibra struggled to find his touch in front of goal. He missed a horde of chances, chances that you would usually expect him to score with eyes closed. And along with that, there was a missed penalty as well. His profligacy up front cost Manchester United heavily as the match finished 1-1.
But, the repercussions did not just stop there. Zlatan was involved in some very ugly incidents in the game with Cherries defender Tyrone Mings. It all started when Mings unknowingly stamped the face of the Swede who was floored after colliding with Wayne Rooney. The offense went unpunished and Zlatan decided to take matters into his own hands.
Soon after, United were awarded a corner and Mings was tightly marking the Swede. The former PSG striker leapt high up in the air, and along the way, appeared to violently elbow the defender. Once again, the referee missed the incident. Instead, he sent off Andrew Surman who shoved Ibrahimović to the floor in the aftermath of the incident.
Ibrahimović may have escaped the punishment during the game, but the FA has taken a look at the incident and has charged both Mings and him with violent conduct. As a result, the talismanic striker will most likely miss three games for Manchester United, with those matches being the crucial FA Cup quarter-final tie against bitter rivals Chelsea, followed by league games against Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion.
Ibrahimović not only cost two points for Manchester United but also could now cost them their run in the FA Cup. It is no secret that the Red devils have struggled for goals without him and he could prove to be a huge miss against Chelsea and the strong defences of Boro and the Baggies thereafter.
So, with Zlatan likely to be unavailable for some crucial domestic fixtures over the course of the month, what could be the strongest line-up that Mourinho could set out?
We take a look:
In David De Gea, United have one of the best goalkeepers in Europe and will be the man between the sticks.
Antonio Valencia has been one of the best right-backs in the Premier League this season and he will form the backline along with Marcos Rojo, who will occupy the left-back position. In between the two full-backs, it will be summer signing Eric Bailly who has impressed heavily so far, and Englishman Chris Smalling.
United have resorted to a two-man pivot in recent weeks and it could stay the same for the upcoming fixtures. This means that the underrated but excellent Ander Herrera will be slotted alongside star man Paul Pogba.
On the right will be Juan Mata, who has been United’s one of the most consistent performers this season. And on the opposite wing, it will be Anthony Martial. The Frenchman has had some sort of a resurgence in recent weeks and has grown in prominence following some bright displays. And operating through the middle in a No.10 role will be Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The Armenian international is expected to be fit for the FA Cup clash, after having missed close to two weeks of action and will slot right into the lineup.
Leading the line in place of Ibrahimović will be the teenage sensation Marcus Rashford. The youngster hasn’t had the same amount of success that he had last year, having found a regular run of games hard to come by. Even when he has featured, it has been out wide. But with the much-maligned Wayne Rooney the only other option, it makes sense to back Rashford to lead the attack.
So, this would come as a great opportunity for the England International to display his abilities and prove to Mourinho that he has what it takes to become Manchester United’s spearhead post the Ibrahimović era.