Premier League
September 9, 2017

The return of Zlatan Ibrahimović

Why the big swede offers another dimension for Mourinho's men



José Mourinho is no stranger to resigning former players, and Ibrahimović is one of them: twice in fact. He has something most of United players don’t have in experience; he knows how to play under pressure, lead a team, win matches and most importantly, win trophies. Ibrahimović will definitely offer a lot off the pitch; just remember when Drogba came back in 2014-15 and the impact it had on the team. Zlatan has the right mentality and always aims high, which will benefit a United team chasing their 21st Premier League title. Who knows, maybe even the Champions League?

Missed chances isn’t an argument

Last season Zlatan missed a big amount of chances, that is true. But first of all, it was because the whole team was build around his strenghts and heavily relied on his individual qualities – he had the most shots (4.3) and passes (38.4) per 90 in the league after Agüero.

Second, that is not how you should judge strikers. You should judge strikers by the amount of chances they had, even better by their xG. It’s a question of overperforming and underperforming. Zlatan had 0.66 xG+xA/90. Between strikers that have played more than 1000 minutes, only Aguero had better numbers.

What about xG? 0.49/90 (that makes 13.2 xG in total). He scored 15 goals which brings us to 1.13 goal/1xG – Zlatan didn’t underperform. Also, only Kane and Agüero have better xG stats. Just think.

Penalties and direct free kicks are not included in these xG stats.*

Match-winning skills

If something isn’t going well, Chelsea can always rely on Hazard. Liverpool can rely on Mané, Arsenal on Alexis. But who can Manchester United rely on? If there is someone who is ready to prove all his haters wrong and perform in decisive games, it’s Zlatan. Last season, he dug the Red Devils out of holes, especially in the cups. His performance against Southampton in the League Cup Final speaks for itself.

In the Champions League, against tougher sides, United will surely need a player like him, as Lukaku still has questions to answer over his ability in big matches, and both Martial and Rashford are still developing.

Tactical Advantages

Zlatan isn’t a player that runs in behind, dribbles or relies on his pace. He is known for his technique, his ability to play on the floor and dragging opposition defenders by playing as a ”false nine”.

Mourinho loves to use a target man in specific games and Zlatan Ibrahimović fits the bill. Sometimes to avoid pressure last season, we’ve seen United sending long balls to Zlatan; Mourinho tried the same with Lukaku in the pre season and against Real Madrid in the Super Cup, but it didn’t work out very well. This passmap confirms it:

Lukaku also said that he isn’t a target man and prefers a different style of play, even though he is nearly two metres tall and very physical.

Hold up play and  playing as a false nine are things that Ibrahimović can do better than Lukaku. Sometimes last season he was dropping deeper in midfield, which most of Man Utd fans didn’t like. But in reality, a lot of Premier League defenders were following him and creating gaps in their structure.

Zlatan is different to Lukaku and this would give Mourinho more variety when choosing his squad. We all know that the more player profiles there are in the squad, the better it is.

Friendly competition for Lukaku

Ibrahimović competition? As long as it makes you better, you relish it.

Romelu Lukaku

Ibrahimović and Lukaku could team up in a 3-5-2 (maybe even a 3-5-1-1 with Zlatan behind Lukaku). That makes sense because Ibrahimović loves to bring others into play. But even though both players complement each other, it is unlikely that both Lukaku and Ibrahimović will be on the same pitch much, mostly because of their passive style of defending (This is also why Morata suits Chelsea more than Lukaku).

Romelu definetely knows that Zlatan isn’t here for the long-term and shouldn’t be worried about his starting place for the next few years at all. This will even offload him, because he will now have to play less matches.

It seems like they already have a good relationship!


Manchester United fans should definetely be happy with his return. He offers a lot both on and off the pitch. He has some unfinished business here in England and if there is someone who can help this team and push it for the 21 alongside Mourinho, it’s Manchester United’s Swedish hero.

About this author

Kamran Asadov

Manchester United fan. Born in Switzerland, from Azerbaijan.

Premier League