Zlatan Ibrahimovic has no doubt proven his doubters wrong this season. The Peter Pan of European football has scored 28 goals in all competitions this season for Manchester United at the ripe old age of 35.
However, the last week or so has not been the greatest of Ibrahimovic’s career. Last Sunday the Swede was left out of the starting line-up to face Chelsea.
The striker made a late cameo in the 2-0 win, but his replacement youngster Marcus Rashford stole the show with an electric display.
Things got even worse for the striker on Thursday night. The former PSG star sustained an injury in the Red Devils win over Anderlecht in the Europa League quarter-final tie. Again Rashford popped up with the winner. The severity of the injury is yet to be discovered, but United boss Jose Mourinho was not optimistic after the game.
Rashford becoming increasingly influential
The fact that United fared so well in the Chelsea game was largely due to Marcus Rashford’s lively performance. The 19-year-old was a constant threat to the leader’s depleted defence and was close to his form of last season.
The young striker has endured a frustrating campaign. At times he has looked like he has lacked confidence in front of goal. Rashford has still scored ten times in all competitions for the Red Devils this season, though.
For much of the season, he has been playing out wide and not in his favoured central striking role, as Ibrahimovic has been an ever present in the team.
In the last few games, his confidence and belief seem to have returned. His goal against Chelsea was a clear indication that he is feeling sharper in front of goal. The striker has now scored three goals in his last four appearances for the Red Devils.
He is becoming increasingly influential for Jose Mourinho’s team. It seems Ibrahimovic’s bad fortune could prove another chance for the young striker to prove his worth in his favoured role.
A different style of play without Ibrahimovic
The Chelsea game was maybe a small sign of things to come for United. Mourinho decided to field the pace of Rashford and Jesse Lingard up front. That meant Ibrahimovic was relegated to the bench.
The Swedish striker is no doubt a great goalscorer. However, he can be slightly static and does not offer the same attributes as Rashford or Lingard. The two youngsters cannot offer the same attributes as the Swede. They are far more mobile, though, so maybe the team is more fluid in their movement.
Against the league leaders, United looked assured and dangerous going forward. In Thursday’s game against Anderlecht Mourinho decided to field all three forwards and the Red Devils eventually won.
The win was achieved despite Ibrahimovic missing two good chances. It should also be said that Rashford also missed a good opportunity, as did midfielder Paul Pogba.
A glimpse of the future perhaps
The recent game against Chelsea was maybe a glimpse of the future for Manchester United fans. Ibrahimovic’s contract expires this summer and speculation is rife that the Swede may leave for pastures new.
A United team without Ibrahimovic could be a real possibility next season. With Ibrahimovic seemingly out of action for a while, Rashford now has a chance to prove that he can be United’s first-choice central striker next season.
The Red Devils are once again being linked with a move to sign Everton’s prolific Belgium international Romelu Lukaku this summer. With much still left to play for, Rashford has a golden opportunity to show Mourinho his worth to the team.
Earlier today United were drawn against Spanish side Celta Vigo in the semi-final of the Europa League. The Red Devils are favourites to win the Europa League at odds of 5/6 this season.
If Jose Mourinho’s men are to win Europe’s secondary competition then Rashford could have a big part to play in his team’s chances of success.
What the last few games have proven is that Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be a great player, but he is far from irreplaceable. The Red Devils may just have a ready-made replacement for the veteran already at the club in one Marcus Rashford.
Can Rashford cement his place as Manchester United’s first choice striker?
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