This week, the Red Thoughts team discuss what next season might bring for United’s talisman striker.
CARL: Should Zlatan be given a contract extension or should we go in another direction, maybe with more of a pace-orientated attack?
BETS: I’m in two minds about it. Zlatan is a world class striker, he’s powerful and strong, has immense confidence and is inspiring to the younger strikers around him. However, as your question suggests, Carl, he’s not got pace, and sometimes this season we’ve looked lacking in pace up front, even with the likes of Martial and Mkhi playing alongside him. Seeing Lingard and Rashford buzzing around Middlesborough in the first half, with Valencia adding pace down the right, gave us a glimpse of what a strategy based on pace would look like, and I must admit, I liked it.
JIM: We absolutely must extend the contract. He scores goals for fun and the way he plays means that he doesn’t need to rely on pace. He’ll need replacing eventually, but we can still get a few more years out of him.
CARL: I don’t think either is a problem. Both a Zlatan style of frontman and a pacy Rashford one has its own advantages. I always feel if you’re going with pace up top, that you should have pace in the wide areas too. If you’re going with the pace option, then go all out. Overwhelming an opposition with pace can be very effective, especially if you stick a world-class creative player around them. We saw how great a front three of Jesus, Sane and Sterling with De Bruyne and Silva in behind to feed them was working for City before Jesus got injured. They’ll be a tough proposition with that offensive set-up next season.
Dortmund, Liverpool, Monaco, Barcelona etc., all thrive on a lot of pace and good movement up top, it’s the more modern attacking approach rather than the imposing, physical No.9. I love Zlatan, but if we could sign someone like Griezmann, Aubameyang or Mbappe then I wouldn’t be too concerned with him moving on. There are only a few options good enough in the world right now as a pace option that could actually come in and deliver to anything like the prolific extent that Zlatan does, so if we can’t get one of those options, then of course we should be offering whatever it takes to keep Zlatan on for another season or two.
DAN: For me, he should be offered a contract extension. He has shown his class all season. But i would love to see Rashford or Martial up alongside as a 2.
REX: United and Mourinho have already stated the willingness to execute the extra year on his current contract, as we originally had 1 year with the option of a second, depending on performances. Let’s see if he can do it in his second season, because, as seen with Martial and Rashford, that can be a tricky one to navigate as defenders now know more about you.
If he has another season like this then we could give him another 1 year with an option again.
Personally I say go for Griezmann regardless. Where Zlatan’s hold up play is second to none, he doesn’t have the legs for counter attacks, which I feel is an area Mourinho would like to strengthen and use more often. I would say Rashford would’ve been the one to take that mantle, but his decision-making and finishing lately have not been the kind United can depend on. Martial is obviously not being considered as a striker, otherwise he’d get more opportunities there, but most of those have gone to Rashford. So get a player who can both run and score, so that even if Zlatan’s form dips, we’ve got someone there to say ‘you’re the man now’. And we can slowly move Zlatan on.
BETS: I kind of agree with Carl, if we were to go for the likes of Aubameyang in the summer, it would take us in a different direction and maybe a more modern one. Zlatan is one of the best big target men there has ever been, but does the big target man have a place in modern football? However, Aubameyang has been quoted as saying several times that he wants to join Real Madrid, Griezmann has been quoted several times that he wants to stay at Atletico, and Mbappe is younger than Rashford … for me, Lukaku is looking like the most likely striker to join us – another big target man! Dan, I share your wish for a 4-4-2, but I don’t think we’ll ever see it as a starting formation, only when we’re chasing the game. It’s another of those “does it have a place in modern football?” questions.
DAN: I do believe the big target man will always have a place in modern football, but they have to be more than just a big lump to pump the ball up to, they need to have a bit of pace and good touch. Also, I do think a 4-4-2 has a place in modern football – of course it does! Leicester won the league playing an adaptation of a 4-4-2 and there are teams in Europe who play 4-4-2 as well. But two up top doesn’t mean 4-4-2; I like the idea of 3 at the back – Valencia thrives on that space. Play Shaw as the other wing back, Herera and Pogba as your CMS, Zlatan and Rashford/Martial as your 2 focal points, then depending who we are playing, a defensive mid or Mata/Mhkitaryan/Rooney behind the forwards at an attacking mid.
CARL: 4-4-2 definitely has a place in modern football. Any formation has a place in modern football if you have a tactical intelligence and the players to make it work. As Dan said, Leicester won the league with that formation last season, Sean Dyche has made it work brilliantly to get enough results at Burnley this season to see them sitting comfortably in mid table, and Simeone has used it to great effect to make Atletico a force again in his tenure there. There’s no outdated formation, nor are there formations that can’t work in certain countries, that’s all a myth. You just need the talent and intelligence to make it work. It’s like a few years ago, when people used to say “3 at the back can’t work in the Premier League” – I thought it was nonsense then and people like Conte, Rodgers and Pochettino have proved it’s nonsense by utilising it so effectively here in recent times.
REX: As for Lukaku, I really don’t see Mourinho going for him after his war of words with him when he let him leave Chelsea. But then again, in football these days, who knows?!
Every player has a price, to the clubs and to the players themselves. If United put down an offer they can’t refuse, any of those star players will come. That’s the truth of it. So it’s just a matter of how badly José wants them and which one he thinks will make the puzzle whole.
RICK: The Zlatan thing is a no brainer in terms of offering him the contract extension. I say we take up the one year extension with the option to extend again. No offence to him, but if we have a policy of only offering one year contracts to over 30s, then he just has to respect that and be grateful we offered him the chance of an extension. He’s broken, and will continue to break, all sorts of records this season. The only question is whether he is able to win the golden boot. Hopefully he’ll help us get top four and the Europa League Cup. If that happens, then this season would be a major success for Mourinho.
As for getting another striker, I believe that if Zlatan is gonna be our main man for the next season or two, then Lukaku will not come to sit on the bench. But if Zlatan wasn’t going to renew with us, then I’d say go for him. He’s young and has scored regularly in a team who don’t offer him as many chances as we would. He seems to have matured a bit from the scared player who wanted to play at a big club but couldn’t handle the pressure, to a player who may now be able to handle that pressure. So I would take a gamble on him. He’s a Mourinho type of striker, big, strong, quick, can hold up the ball, good in the air. He’s the closest out there to what Mourinho had in Drogba, minus the diving. And he’s better than Drogba in the air.
Regarding the idea that if we kept Zlatan, we won’t have that much pace, I slightly disagree, as the players around Zlatan should help with that pace. Players like Rashford, Mkhi, Lingard and Martial. However, if I want a pacy target man, as well as one that can also play the holdup game, then, again, Lukaku fits the bill. It would also mean we don’t have to change personnel to change the game we want to play. I’m not confident Rashford can take on the mantle of lone man on his own; like Lukaku, I feel he needs a bit more maturing and work on his finishing, and should rotate next season as well. But like I said, if Mourinho doesn’t want to activate Zlatan’s contract extension, or Zlatan doesn’t want to activate it, then Lukaku should be the striker we go for. He’s a perfect Mourinho striker.