Ibrahimovic and Lukaku starting didn’t work for Man Utd

It would be somewhat of a stretch to call this an experiment but, whatever it was, it should not happen again. At least from the start anyway.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has never been an effective No 10. And he never will be. He slows Manchester United down.

As a result, Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku together did not work for on Boxing Day. That it ever will seems highly improbable.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic had an afternoon to forget as Manchester United toiled against Burnley

Part of Jose Mourinho’s thinking will undoubtedly have come down to United’s lack of killer instinct at Leicester, that he wanted his two deadliest finishers in the same team to prove a point.

But it failed spectacularly, something Mourinho clearly recognised when hauling Ibrahimovic off at half-time with United two goals down and having laboured in the final third.

With backs to goal, they ran into the same spaces. Otherwise, Ibrahimovic was seen coming too deep in search of possession, isolating Lukaku. Burnley’s defending was admirable, throwing themselves in front of everything, but they were never truly under the pump.

Until the half-time reshuffle, that is. The vibrancy and zest with which United played immediately after the restart suggested a combination of Lukaku and Ibrahimovic is one not required at this juncture.

Mourinho has too many busy – and crucially, nippy – attackers at his disposal to go with these two together as a Plan A. They have rather passed Ibrahimovic by, sadly.

There is a school of thought around the club that the 36-year-old was too fixated on making a swift return – playing to the lion narrative he created – than actually finding proper sharpness after his knee ligament injury.

Mourinho has been relatively short when quizzed about Ibrahimovic over the last month too, and that this was his first start – his first in the Premier League for 261 days – points to the manager’s belief that he’s not really been ready.

To be honest, it felt like he was shoehorned in against Burnley. ‘There are spaces where a No 10 plays, and where Ibrahimovic – even when he was No 9 – spaces where he feels comfortable to play,’ Mourinho said last week as an act of pre-emptive justification.

That did not feel strictly true at Old Trafford. Crosses were swung in with the Swede on his heels outside the box. He lazily chipped forward passes aimlessly while breaking for a lack of speed.

He even betrayed his instincts, a by-product of his position, which is scarily unlike him. With United on top, Ibrahimovic loitered beyond the central defenders dangerously.

Left back Charlie Taylor followed him, playing the striker onside, only for Ibrahimovic to suddenly realise where he was: beyond Lukaku. He reverted to type and dropped off, brain scrambled. It encapsulated his head-scratching 45 minutes. 

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