We are at that stage of the season, in the middle of the second and usually the most hated international break, where the dust has seemingly settled and fans are starting to see a clearer picture of the team after all the hustle and bustle of the opening two months.
Manchester United have made a decent start to their domestic and European campaign, a B+ if anything. And in all fairness, these couple of months could have gone a touch better than they did, but Jose Mourinho will be targeting October if he were to make a real statement as the Red Devils face the prospect of playing 7 games in the space of 22 days before another international pit-stop. So many variables concerning the management of Manchester United at this moment in time, when we look at them, have not turned out the way they were expected to. After all, this is a huge task and Jose happens to be human.
Pogba’s impact on United has been subdued as the manager has yet to find his best 11, linked to his handling of club captain Wayne Rooney, which at best can be described as unsure. But there have been things that have met the general expectations since the Portuguese took over and in some cases, exceeded them.
United have looked, in these last two months, like they were ready to unshackle themselves and play attacking football again although there’s still a substantial amount of Van Gaal’s football ingrained into the minds of players, the impressive scoring rate of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his marked impact on youngsters at the club – especially fellow forward Marcus Rashford has been the two key positives. Throw Bailly’s rock solid performances at the back so early into his United career, this squad seems to have the potential to do special things, after three very ordinary years.
More on Zlatan’s immediate influence on the playing style – the 35-year old Swedish international has not only brought his supreme goal-scoring prowess into Manchester United, but also the swagger and an air of confidence up front that has been missing and something that has steadily seeped into the rest of the squad which was particularly evident in the 4-1 win against champions Leicester City. Four goals in 7 league starts and 6 in 11 games in all competitions (including the community shield) is not a bad record for a 35-year old in an new country.
His influence on the playing style of United is clearly progressive right from the first goal he scored for the club, a powerful header to win the community shield against Leicester City. United have gone on to become the most dominant side in the air in the season so far and generally look far more dangerous in set pieces and especially corners than they have been in recent years, which is vitally important in the Premier League. Collectively they have won 59% of their duels in the air, which is more than any other side in the league and this is indicative of what their strengths are and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, more than anyone, is central to that.
On the field, the fierce Swede has added the bite and nastiness that United were lacking under previous managers Louis van Gaal and David Moyes. Off the field, his impact has been entirely different and arguably much more significant considering the future under Mourinho. If there’s anyone who is absolutely relishing every minute of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Manchester United, it has to be Marcus Rashford. With 3 goals in 5 appearances in the league (3 starts) plus a goal and an assist in the EFL cup encounter against Northampton Town, the 18-year old has had a dream start in his first full season with his boyhood club.
The fact that he is now working alongside a striker as accomplished and mentally strong as Ibrahimovic is as good as it gets as mentors go, and the English international has spoken very highly about his colleague and teacher who has been vital in these early weeks of the season for him and other youngsters in the squad like Memphis Depay, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard. The mouthwatering possibility of playing Rashford up front alongside the 35-year old has been discussed by Gary Neville of Sky Sports more recently where he claimed the English international is clever enough to complement Ibrahimovic’s game at the same time play his own.
This may become a reality in the future or not, but the positive influence of a Yoda like figure in Ibrahimovic to Manchester United’s very own Luke Skywalker in Marcus Rashford is very much the cause for a new hope at Old Trafford in a new era where they look to reinstate themselves in the Premier League galaxy as one of its most powerful empires.