Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s November return to United’s match squad has coincided with an upturn in the team’s form and results, but also with a barren spell for Lukaku. This week, the Red Thoughts team discuss the early evidence of Zlatan’s form, his partnership with Lukaku and the roles they are both playing on the pitch.
BETS: I know it’s early days, but I am loving Zlatan in this slightly deeper role. He has vision and creativity in his passing. But I’m not sure whether it will work over 90 minutes, and will he be happy to be a super sub?
RICK: I’m more concerned about Lukaku to be honest. He’s not getting the service he needs and when Zlatan comes on, he’s shifted to wide positions. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind both of them being on the pitch at the same time. I just don’t think one should be a winger. If they’re going to be on the pitch, they should both be strikers. As for Zlatan being a sub, he just needs to accept that role now I’m afraid. Especially after his injury.
DEAN: Well we saw against Brighton the influence that Zlatan has on the pitch. Just minutes after coming on, he had a impact. He played a similar role at PSG, with Cavani ahead of him and it worked. He has the technical ability and passing range with physical strength to hold up the ball. Mkhitaryan is getting bullied off the ball way to easily, and with Mata just not cutting it at United, placing Ibra in that No.10 role makes sense.
But I also don’t understand why Lukaku is shifting to the right. He needs to stay in the box, and not get tempted to drop deep or shift out of position to the wing.
RICK: I know. Against Brighton, I understand that we didn’t have any wingers on the pitch, but he needs to make himself available in the box for crosses, because he’s the main target man. He helped us defend the wings, but he needs to remember that his main role is to get goals.
BETS: Wasn’t his fitness and energy impressive though? He was bombing around a soaking wet pitch like a madman after guys like Rashford had limped off exhausted. I have been frustrated with his finishing lately, but his work rate was phenomenal.
RICK: I was definitely happy with that, but we could have been in a more comfortable position if he and Zlatan were getting into the right positions in the box for when crosses arrive. But as you say, he really helped out defensively when we were under the cosh, which was impressive, and even José commented about it in his post match conference. A lot of people really criticised Lukaku about his work rate when he was about to join us and when he was at Everton, but since he’s come to us, his attitude has been first class.
DEAN: The crosses from our full backs and wide players were awful against Brighton and quite frankly have been for most of the season. The link up play and through balls just aren’t happening at the moment for Lukaku, forcing him to come out of position and drop deeper to be more involved in the game. Hopefully Ibra will get more opportunities in that No.10 role and the link up play will finally start to click together.
RICK: When Ibra has come on for cameos recently, you could see some link up play developing between him and the midfield and strikers which wasn’t there before due to the lack of Pogba. Not only that, but whoever has been the no.10 before, whether it be Mata or Mhki, has just not been good enough.
BETS: The crossing has been poor for years now (while Pereira is looking best in Europe over at the Mestalla).
EHSAAN: Oh, how I’d love to have Pereira right now. Our delivery into the box is absolutely dire. I’m still not sure about Zlatan in the no. 10 role. I really don’t think it’s the smartest thing to do still. I don’t think Zlatan will ever be too happy as a super sub, but maybe he’s understood that he won’t get a starting place at many top top clubs. He has definitely showed a lot of energy though.
HEMOR: I’m glad Zlatan is back, he will give us another option. As for him playing no 10, I’m not entirely sure, but he has been doing well there when he’s come on so far and with Mhki and Mata not performing and Lingard always being inconsistent, I think we should give it a shot once he’s fully ready. Zlatan playing behind Lukaku might be the key to solving our problem.
BETS: I’m not sure yet whether I want him there for 90 minutes, but I’m liking it as a last 20/30 option.
DEAN: Well I would rather have Ibra in that No.10 role then Mkhitaryan or Mata at the moment. With Zlatan’s physical strength and hold up play and good passing link up play, he’s well suited there. Mkhitaryan’s getting bullied off the ball way to easily, and as for Mata, his time is up at United, time to ship him out.
JIM: We should start Zlatan in the next game instead of Lukaku. Lukaku is clearly tired and needs a rest, so starting him instead against Arsenal would be a good idea.
REX: His return has helped in the confidence department, as we have an extra striker now. As for his actual influence on the game and the way we play, that has yet to be seen, as they’ve all been cameo appearances. He’s probably going to play his first full 90 minutes in a cup game. That’ll do him just fine.
We have to get him going, because Lukaku has been missing sitters, overthinking things. He had a tap in against Watford, but he had to overdo it! It wouldn’t hurt to have someone to replace him from game to game, or at least a viable substitute who we can depend on during games where Lukaku isn’t playing well.
As for Zlatan’s position, we have to play two strikers when he’s on. The no. 10 isn’t for him. He’s good technically, but his pace there would undo him unless we’re 3-0 up or playing against a very weak team.
CARL: Jim, I doubt Lukaku’s tired, not after the shift he put in against Brighton, tiredness is clearly not his problem. Confidence seems to be his big issue, otherwise I’m sure he’d have hit that chance he had against Watford first time rather than tried to take a couple of touches. I never really commented when we signed Lukaku as to how really I felt about it, because I wasn’t really sure whether it was the right signing or not. I like him, but he does have these spells. I was of course over the moon when Zlatan re-signed though. He will score some important goals this season.
DAN: The return of Ibrahimovic has seen a weird decision of putting Lukaku on the the wing. For me, it has to be one or the other, unless we have two wingers and play both up front. I’m also concerned about Lukaku’s form, it just showed against Watford, in a one-on-one situation with the keeper on the floor and he takes another touch to put it on his left. We need a confident Lukaku, especially coming into the Christmas period, with Ibrahimovic providing back up and respite.
CARL: Even Pogba was showing frustrating with Lukaku against Watford. He really needs to get it together, because José is keeping faith and excusing him, but that won’t last forever if it starts negatively impacting results.
DAN: Exactly, its not a big problem when you are scoring goals from other positions and he’s still doing the other bits. It’s in front of goal that’s the problem. I think Watford was a big chance for him to get a goal or two.
BETS: I think he’s basically just trying too hard.
DAN: You only have to look at the open goal he had to tap into with his right foot against Watford. A confident striker sticks that away with his weaker foot. I’m not saying he should be scoring every game, but he should be taking chances like that as bread and butter.