After two consecutive draws in front of their home supporters, thirteen-time Premier League Champions Manchester United returned to winning ways last Sunday, when they brushed aside relegation-strugglers Sunderland with a 3-0 win at the Stadium of Light. The win sends them to fifth in the table with 57 points, four points clear of fourth-place Manchester City with a game in hand. The win also meant the Reds have already gone 21 games unbeaten in the Premier League.
And it’s all thanks to one man – Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
During the pre-season, many thought United were irrational in offering the 35-year-old Swede a contract to play in the Premier League. After all, the striker was already prehistoric in terms of age, with little re-selling value and growth potential. Little did they know, Ibrahimovic would prove to be a relentless tyrannosaurus on the pitch, terrorising opposition after opposition with his immense presence, clinical finishing, and intelligent off-the-ball positioning.
In terms of goal-scoring, the sensational Swede has proven he can pull it off in England. He has already scored 17 Premier League goals this season. To put that into context, The inimitable Swede’s tally is more than what Manchester United’s second to fourth highest scorer (Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Marcus Rashford, respectively) in the league so far have accumulated combined.
Considering that Mata and Mkhitaryan came in to the club at a combined cost of nearly £75million and Zlatan was brought into the club for free, the Swedish striker is definitely a bargain, to say the least.
The former INter and Juve frontman has only been absent in three of United’s league games this season, all through suspension. The rest of the league games he has played in have been for the full 90 minutes. In those games where Zlatan was not available, the club have managed to score four goals in three games – an average of 1.33 goals a game. With the former Paris Saint-Germain and Inter Milan striker in the team, United average 1.6 goals a game – a significant difference considering it is all brought about by just one player.
The explanation of this statistic may well be because of Ibrahimovic’s presence on the pitch and how it affects the way the opposition defends. Without the striker, United opposition tend to play a flat, even-spaced back line, in order to shield their goal from the Reds’ relentless attack. This play is readily seen in United’s game against West Bromwich Albion last 1 April. But with the Swede front-lining United’s attack, suddenly teams are forced to have at least one of their centre-backs close down on the 35-year-old, creating space for an attack.
Imagine if the multi Swedish player of the year had a strike partner behind him, like a shadow striker of a number 8 with the goal-scoring capabilities of Sergio Aguero or Antoine Griezmann.
Regardless, it is clear that Ibrahimovic is an integral part of United’s squad and the Old Trafford would be remiss if they fail to understand this. The Reds must move fast to ensure their talisman will stay at Manchester beyond the end of his contract at the end of this season because, without Zlatan, United , at this stage, simply stand no chance.