After a hat trick against St Etienne, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the subject of these week’s Red Thoughts, as the team evaluates his season so far and discusses whether Mourinho should continue to build his team around him next season.
JIM: I think Zlatan has had an excellent season so far. People are putting so much emphasis on his lack of work during a game and the chances he misses, but he’s still hit 23 goals this season and at his age that is incredible
BETS: 23 goals and 7 assists in 35 games is, as you say Jim, a good return, but for me, the fact he’s played 35 games by early February – and 90 minutes in nearly all of them – is a problem. I personally think he’s looked tired in recent games. We all know he’s missed quite a few chances, but I also think he’s started to give the ball away sloppily quite a lot as well. We seem to have gone from Rooney having to play 90 minutes of every game to Zlatan. Against Watford, we were 2-0 up at home, with 35 minutes or so left, why not take him off instead of Mata or Martial? It makes no sense to me.
HEMOR: Zlatan has been awesome this season but I agree he has looked tired in recent games. But unfortunately, we have some very important and crucial games coming up so we need him in those games.
DAN: You can’t knock the amount of goals he has scored this season. It’s a shame those behind him haven’t backed him up with goals as well. The one thing you can say is he does spend a lot of time just strolling about – he does drop too deep at times, which is why I think we need another player alongside him, or a player who, when he does drop deep, has the brains to go and fill the space Zlatan vacated.
RICK: Mata and Lingard do a decent job of filling in for him when he drops deep.
I do agree with Betty regarding resting him, at his age he can’t be expected to play every minute of every game in every competition and the Watford game was a perfect opportunity to give him some rest.
He’s done great and has become the oldest player to score 15 Premier League goals in a season and there’s no doubt he’ll get 20. But I’m setting a higher standard for him and I feel given the chances he’s missed, and all he more opportunities he’s had, he should have already got 20 Premier League goals. That may seem harsh but I think I’m being fair and he would probably agree with me. However, I am extremely happy he’s got the goals he has so far for us this season and look forward to him scoring more and helping us win games. I’m also sure he’ll go down in Premier League history as the best ever free transfer!
DAN: I honestly think getting someone up with him will help, but goal-wise he has carried the team.
BETS: I think Mata gets his fair share of goals, if he played more minutes I think he’d be close to 20 a season himself.
RICK: Mata always scores loads of goals each season, so I’m not concerned about him. He’s got more than Hazard since he left Chelsea, so that alone speaks volumes.
DAN: The fact we only have 38 league goals speaks volumes. We have Ibrahimovic on 15 league goals, then Mata on 6, then Pogba on 4 – that for me is too big a gap.
BETS: I agree, but I don’t think Rick is being over picky in wanting more from Zlatan either. It ties back with what Rex said a couple of weeks ago – our whole game has been based around getting it to Zlatan’s feet. So yes, others should have got beyond him a little more, but given the amount of chances he has had, he should have scored more as well. I think if we stick with this new 4-2-3-1 formation we’ll see a difference, it allows others to run on more and for him to drop deeper when he wants.
DAN: Ibrahimovic is like Berbatov – he will just stroll about, doing what he wants – he is Ibrahimovic. It’s up to the others to get around him and link with him and its not been happening often enough. Also it doesn’t help that we can’t take set pieces – nobody seems to be able to put a dead ball into the box. I know I bang on about it, but look down the years at all the important goals we have got from corners and free kicks.
RICK: You and me both, mate. Surely being paid that much money, you shud be able to put in a proper cross.
BETS: Yeah, how much would you pay to have a Beckham in the side right now?
DAN: Yep, it’s a shame with all the height we have in the side, we can’t use it to our advantage.
I’m listening to Talk Sport, and they are actually talking about the art of crossing dying off. They have had a football stat guy on who was saying that teams on average are putting 15 balls into the box per game, but the percentage of goals direct from crosses has gone down. It takes 92 crosses to produce a goal. That stat doesn’t include what happens off the 2nd ball, but apparently it’s all down to players not making correct runs as they used to.
FAB: Look, Zlatan is 35. At times, we praise him for what he is doing at his age in the Premier League when everyone said that he would flop, but on the other hand, Zlatan can’t always be effective and that’s why I have been pointing out that we need a second choice of number 9. Given Martial’s pace, he certainly would be a huge help on that left hand side. So that’s why Rashford should be the backup plan for the number 9 position.
I’ve been analysing what happens to a team when Zlatan leaves. Mourinho went and won the Champions League the very next year after he left, and so did Guardiola with Barcelona. There many differences between Serie A, La Liga and the Premier League. I have been watching Serie A for 14 years now and it’s always the same thing, dependency on one player. It’s hard for this sort of side to conquer Europe and Zlatan has played well in that system. We can’t blame him for that, as he did a great job winning them titles.
What I am trying to point out is that rather than building everything around Zlatan, it would be better if we keep it real and had a few other options. Jose understands that, as Martial, Mkhi and Mata are scoring, which is really important.
I am slightly worried about Zlatan’s mishits in some recent games, as these can cost us points in big games. But, Ibra is Ibra so, I am not too worried. A striker doesn’t just do his job by scoring – playing key passes is important as well, and Ibra plays an important role in the final third. That’s how he works, and I am enjoying it.
CARL: I think Zlatan stated his own case against St Etienne. Nowhere near tiredness.
RICK: I thought he was spot on against St Etienne. He got lucky with the first. He was very patient and smart about the second, he put away his chances and I can’t fault him. But he’s been doing well all season, just he went through a bad patch of not converting his chances.
COREY: This may be an unfair comparison, but Zlatan is who we had all hoped Berbatov would have been. He is a Swedish god Berbatov… he can be a little lazy off the ball, and when things don’t go his way, he can lose interest in the game.
But we don’t seem to mind because, unlike Berbatov, he scores the goals. Against St Etienne, he went quiet in parts of the game, but all people remember is the hat trick.
Keeping him around to mentor Rashford and Martial will ultimately be his biggest contribution, but as long as he is also banging in goals, he is by far our best piece of business. Remember, we got him on a free transfer, there was literally no risk involved.
I am pleasantly surprised by his 20+ goals, and look forward to seeing him next season. But I don’t think he someone you build a team around. That is what we have Pogba for.
BETS: It was great to see the hat-trick but it hasn’t changed my opinion about his tiredness. Look, Zlatan is god, but even God rested on the 7th day!