Zlatan Ibrahimovic is on the verge of returning to Manchester United's lineup, but it's a different team than the one he last played for. How will Jose Mourinho integrate him into the attack?  

By 90Min
November 17, 2017

Veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has suggested he could drop into the No. 10 role, behind Romelu Lukaku, when making his long-awaited return from injury.

The 36-year-old ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in last season's Europa League quarter-final victory against Anderlecht and hasn't featured for United since.

Ibrahimovic had previously worn the No. 10 shirt with Sweden and PSG and has now vowed to do to the shirt justice for the Red Devils - having donned Wayne Rooney's famous number and handed the nine to Lukaku.

Speaking, in a promotional video for Volvo (via ESPN) the big Swede revealed: "I see myself in that position but it is not something that is given to you, it is just something you are, that's just the way it is," adding "I feel like a 10 and I stand for the No. 10. It will go down in history that I always had No. 10."

After six months of rehabilitation, Ibrahimovic - United's top scorer with 28 goals last season - rejoined the squad and began training at Carrington in October, finally looking set for a sensational comeback.

In what capacity we're currently unsure, but if the big Swede gets his way he could be starting as an attacking midfielder in the first team. What effect would his return have on the rest of Jose Mourinho's side though?

With the stuttering form of United's Armenian maestro Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Ibrahimovic could be drafted in as a direct replacement.

The 28-year-old had an electric start to the season, bagging five assists in as many games for the side, but has since come under scrutiny, for failing to impact the state of play in recent defeats to Huddersfield and Chelsea.

Perhaps United would benefit, then, from pulling Mkhitaryan from the role of focal point in favour of Ibrahimovic and returning the ex-Dortmund man to his original position on the right, allowing him more space to play his natural game and cross on his favoured right foot.

Old Trafford is now seemingly a land of giants, with the acquisitions Mourinho has made in his brief tenure - the return of Ibrahimovic, making the side all the more imposing.

Man Utd Regular Height (6ft +)
Chris Smalling 6'4
Eric Bailly 6'1
Paul Pogba 6'3
Marouane Fellaini 6'4
Nemanja Matic 6'4
Romelu Lukaku 6'3
Zlatan Ibrahimovic 6'5

Having scored seven goals from set pieces already this season, it becomes that much more difficult for opposition to nullify potentially seven aerial threats at once.

If Ibrahimovic were once again selected for the first team, United would have a serious physical advantage over almost every team in the league. Most notably over table-topping rivals City, whose current line-up averages 5'10.7 inches - the smallest average in the Premier League.

The switch of personnel could also potentially mean that Fellaini's playing time is drastically shortened.

United currently deploy Fellaini as a last resort substitute in matches where they're behind, instructed simply, to get in and amongst the opposition center backs and cause havoc with his tight chest control and heading ability from direct play.

GLYN KIRK/GettyImages

However, the addition of Ibrahimovic in the final third, would mean that the direct option is already on and with a far superior technician and finisher, leaving the Belgian's usual role redundant.

The most crucial impact United fans will be hoping for, is an increased creativity in the final third and improved/more frequent service for the £75m man Lukaku.

After seven matches in all competitions without a goal, the brawny Belgian is becoming increasingly frustrated on the pitch. Could Ibrahimovic be the key to once again getting the 24-year-old firing on all cylinders?

It's become widely known that Ibrahimovic takes some handling, with his lethal shooting from range and late runs into the box.

This could potentially free up Lukaku with more space, as the central defenders and midfield enforcers will be further occupied. Lukaku would relish having the extra space in which to operate, having been isolated on numerous occasions in recent matches.

However the potential concern is that counterattacks would be slowed significantly with the Swede spearheading the midfield. 

Mourinho is an extremely pragmatic manager and will often sit back and absorb pressure while looking to snatch goals on the counter and its safe to say, despite his quality, Ibrahimovic isn't fast at 36.

It's all a question of finding the right balance. If Ibrahimovic was to come into the side and start bagging regular goals while threading incisive passes to his successor Lukaku, not many would say they were surprised, given what the big-man has done in his illustrious career to date.

The concern is that his age may be a factor, as there's no room for a 'free role' in a Jose Mourinho side and United's new found speed and flair could diminish upon his return.

One thing is indisputable though and that is his unbelievable desire and confidence. If there's one man that would love to transform a struggling side and be lauded in the spotlight, it's certainly Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

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