Why Lukaku must be wary of Ibrahimovic return
In recent days, Manchester United striker, Romelu Lukaku has been waxing lyrical about the virtues of his teammate, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as the legendary Swedish striker closes on a return to first-team action.
36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic got injured back in April after an impressive first campaign in Manchester, scoring 28 goals and playing a decisive role in United winning the EFL Cup earlier in the year.
The pair's performances
After an excellent start to life at The Theatre of Dreams, Lukaku has looked somewhat disappointing in recent weeks, failing to score since the end of September, and has looked a shadow of the player that tormented defences early this season alongside the resurgent Paul Pogba.
Zlatan is a player that thrives on competition and with him returning to full fitness, Lukaku needs to be worried about his colleague. Although, base on statistics, Lukaku was in top form in the 2016/17 season and earn more WhScored ratings than Zlatan who was rated at 7.41 while Lukaku was at 7.50.
As shown in the infographic, Lukaku scored 25 goals in 36 appearances for Everton while also registering 6 assists for his teammates while Ibrahimovic had 17 goals and 5 assists across 27 games for the Red Devils.
The impact Zlatan had at Old Trafford last season was outstanding and he was given a contract extension at the club despite being injured. With United not currently firing on all cylinders, the return of Zlatan will have a profound impact on the team both on and off the pitch.
Off and On Field Performances
Zlatan is a leader in the dressing room who demands exceptional standards of people around him, which Lukaku must be wary of. The charismatic Swede doesn’t play second fiddle and with Jose not proving to be a two-man strike-force manager, it means only one of the pair can start at a given point.
Lukaku has now failed to score in his last seven matches - an astonishing fact, given that he scored 10 goals for the 20 time English champions in his first nine matches, a club record. After an excellent start to the season, United seem to have lost their way in recent matches, with manager Jose Mourinho coming in for criticism for the defeats at Chelsea and Huddersfield, as well as the draw at Anfield, a game in which they could have attacked, as Liverpool were not in the best of form heading into that clash.
His £75 million move from Everton meant that there was pressure on him to succeed instantly and he delivered.
United are currently eight points behind City at the top of the league table, and with the imminent return of the likes of Pogba, Marcos Rojo and Michael Carrick, it means that they are going to have more bodies and quality players to prosecute the hectic festive schedule of next month. Ibrahimovic, everywhere he goes despite his increasing age has always been the first choice striker and it is interesting to see how José utilises him this time.
The maverick Portuguese tactician tried that tactic by bringing back Didier Drogba to Chelsea for the 14/15 season to compete with and inspire Diego Costa, and it worked wonders with the Brazilian born Spanish international powering the Blues to the league title.
Lukaku has a lot to play for and prove that he is not just a flash in the pan. Two goals in Belgium’s 3-3 draw with Mexico will have helped his confidence which can only help the 24-year-old striker. Edinson Cavani wilted under the shadow of the overbearing Swede at PSG while Messi reportedly had to tell Barcelona to sell the lanky striker so that he could thrive at Camp Nou.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic may not be the same player he was prior to the injury. But his imposing shadow can make or mar Romelu Lukaku. He may decide to wilt or show his quality. The latter choice would benefit him.