Manchester United have been handed a massive blow in their quest for Champions League qualification after the confirmation from the Football Association on Tuesday afternoon. Zlatan Ibrahimovic will serve a three-match ban following his elbow on Tyron Mings in retaliation for an alleged stamp by the Bournemouth defender. As a consequence, Zlatan will miss the FA Cup clash against Chelsea followed by league matches against Middlesbrough(A) and West Brom(H).
It is only natural that Manchester United will miss his services during this tough run of games considering how influential he has been to their attack in front of goal. United have been heavily reliant on the Swede and despite not being clinical with so many chances at his disposal, Zlatan is still head and shoulders ahead of the other United players in the goals tally for this season.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been involved in 48.7% of Man United's 39 Premier League goals this season.
15 goals ⚽️
4 assists 🎯
Big miss. pic.twitter.com/cI4Y9EiT5C
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 7, 2017
Heavy reliance on Ibrahimovic:
Prior to the ban, Zlatan had missed only one game in the Premier League against Arsenal because of an accumulation of five yellow cards. He has played the full 90 minutes in every other league game and the faith shown by the manager has been pretty much evident. Zlatan has been directly involved in 50% of United’s goals in all competitions, scoring 33% of them. He has also scored more goals in the league than Rashford, Martial, Rooney and Mata COMBINED.
26 – Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored 26 goals in all competitions this season; 17 more than any other Man Utd player. Miss.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 7, 2017
Mourinho has lined his team in a 4-2-3-1 formation for most parts of the season with Ibrahimovic leading the line. It would be interesting to see if Jose tinkers his formation to ensure that the likes of Martial and Rashford add more goal threat rather than just creating chances from out wide. Whether or not Manchester United’s all-time leading goalscorer Wayne Rooney would be called upon is a major question given his limited involvement so far along with some poor dry outings.
Mkhitaryan could be the driving force:
Rashford in particular has been deprived of a starting spot up front and he looks most likely to take charge. The key though will be the men operating behind the youngster, i.e. the ‘3M’ trio of Martial, Mkhitaryan and Mata. Mkhitaryan who was beginning to show glimpses of his talent before his latest injury, would be the player United will be counting on. The Armenian has returned to make the trip to Russia for their Europa League Round of 16 first leg tie against FC Rostov.
— Ashish Shiju (@Ashishmanutd) February 25, 2017
Pogba, who has been criticized for not playing to his full potential and justifying his hefty price tag needs to cease the moment and command midfield alongside Carrick and Herrera. The Frenchman has failed to contribute with goals so far and United would be hoping to see him chip in with a few when they need them the most. Rashford’s blistering pace and movement off the ball can help Pogba utilize his deadly long-ball accuracy in these games.
Zlatan can now focus on the two Europa League matches against Russian side FC Rostov before he returns to domestic football against Everton at Old Trafford. The Reds would hope the stats on United’s dependency on their talisman fall apart for now as they fight for the top four.
We here at the Football Columnist expect the young stars in Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial to shine in these games and keep Manchester United afloat in their European surge. Can Rooney be the answer to United’s prayers like he has been for all these years?