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Ibra injury blessing in disguise for Manchester United?

Monday 24th April 2017
Thursday saw perhaps the most dramatic night at Old Trafford this season. Teenage sensation Marcus Rashford struck in the second half of extra time to seal a Europa League semifinal berth for Manchester United. However, late celebrations came with a steep price. Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic had earlier limped off with knee injuries. Both losses are huge blows   for United but the Ibra injury just may be a blessing in disguise.

Marcos Rojo, who has become influential in United's defense, sharing a formidable partnership with Eric Bailly, will be sorely missed, taking his knock twenty minutes in. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are also shelved, leaving Jose Mourinho few centre half options for the club's crucial run-in.

Ibrahimovic was hurt just as the second half ended. An awkward landing punctuated what simply wasn't his night. A couple bad misses, some errant passes, and far too many profligate possessions preceded the injury. Word is out he's done for the season, possibly longer.
There is no denying the Swedish ace has been United's focal point in attack this season. Zlatan has won matches single-handedly, most notably with his hattrick against St Etienne. At thirty-five, he proved he still holds a top striker's capabilities. He turned many English doubters into believers.

That said, his wastefulness in front of goal can't be overlooked. His conversion rate this season (20%) is far below his standards. Yes, I know he is older now, and playing in a physical league, but his misfired shots have cost United a fortune in points.

Ibra's Premier League shot accuracy (55%) is among the worst when compared to the league's other top strikers. However, Manchester United's attacking problems aren't limited to Ibrahimovic; no United forward has been sufficiently clinical this season.

Ibra is still considered among the world's most lethal strikers. He can claim age is just a number for him. Regardless, certain abilities will fade with time. In Zlatan's case, it's speed. He isn't fast enough and the team around him must bear it. His presence slows buildup play. United's squad is filled with hares: Marcus Rashford, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, even Antonio Valencia. Unfortunately, when the tortoise is first choice in the lineup, they are all consigned to the perimeter.

When Ibra was absent against against Burnley and Chelsea, Mourinho played Rashford and Martial as number nines. Both scored quickly. Neither Blues nor Clarets defenders could cope. The results were two dominant wins, the Chelsea match probably the finest United display this season. And both came without the club's talismanic striker.

It is time for other forwards to step up for United. They no longer need live in the Swedish ace's shadow. United was highly reliant on Zlatan for goals, waiting for its younger players to learn Mourinho's methods. Ibrahimovic's experience can never be replaced in attack, although Wayne Rooney's influence at Turf Moor put that match to bed. Nevertheless Rashford, Martial, et al have shown they're ready. While he will be missed, the Ibra injury certainly appears a blessing in disguise for Man United.
Zaid Pathan

A huge fan of Peter Drury's bombastic post-goal narration and an ardent football follower since his teens, Zaid believes the beautiful game is the best mode of escape from the daily hustle and bustle. He particularly loves to watch the Premier League and wants English clubs to dominate Europe again.

“Life may or may not be beautiful, but football surely is”


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