Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has stated that returning striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is still not ready to start after overcoming a long-term injury. For now, the boss is just happy having the veteran Swede as another option to lessen the pressure on Romelu Lukaku.
"No, he's not ready," Mourinho replied when asked at his weekly press conference if the 36-year-old will be included in the starting XI any time soon (ManUtd.com).
"Step by step, minute by minute, match by match. He's a player that's easy to bring in to the game, so normally he's going to have these periods of 15-20 [minutes] and, one day, we will feel that he's physically ready [to start]," Mourinho added.
Ibrahimovic was formally released by United when his initial 12-month contract expired in June, but he remained in and around the club while his recovery from a serious knee injury was ongoing, before then officially re-signing a new contract in August.
Given that he has remained a part of the club the whole time, Mourinho doesn't believe the fact he has now returned to fitness - Zlatan has made two substitute appearances this month - has made any difference to the role he has already been filling off the pitch.
"He's always here, he's always positive, he's a good influence. It doesn't change the fact he's playing or not playing," Mourinho explained.
"That is important on the pitch because he's one more option for us and I think it's impossible for [Romelu] Lukaku to play every match, so we need this second option - another man, another striker."
Fans will be hoping to see Ibrahimovic come off the bench against Brighton on Saturday and continue his quest for full match fitness. United haven't lost a game of any kind at Old Trafford in 14 months, but the Seagulls are buoyant themselves after five straight games without defeat.
"[They are] ninth in the table, good team, difficult to beat, don't concede many goals, a mixture of physicality, aggression with also quality and creativity," Mourninho said.
"I think Chris Hughton [has done] a great job since he took the team a few seasons ago and we must focus on this [match]. I know that we have a good record at home, I know that we are strong at home, but the opponent is going to be difficult for us."