How Will Zlatan Ibrahimovic Impact Manchester United?
Manchester United brought in Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a free transfer earlier this summer, and the 34-year-old star striker figures to be a major part of the plans for Jose Mourinho's side this season.
Ibrahimovic is obviously a fantastic player, but considering that Manchester United already have two very talented young forwards in Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, was this a necessary move for the Red Devils?
Let's take a look.
What Zlatan Brings to Manchester United
Playing for Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) last year in the French Ligue 1, Ibrahimovic had an outstanding season. He scored an incredible 38 goals in 31 league games to win the Golden Boot Award (top scorer) by a wide margin. He also finished second in the league in assists with 13.
On the surface, these numbers appear to be unfathomable, but PSG absolutely dominated Ligue 1, finishing with 96 points, an entire 31 points ahead of Lyon, the second-place team.
That kind of clear-cut superiority makes Ibrahimovic's numbers from last season a little less impressive. With that said, 38 goals with 13 assists is still fantastic production.
Manchester United will certainly not be able to dominate the English Premier League the way PSG dominated the French League last year, so Ibrahimovic is bound to experience a bit of a drop off in production. He will still be an asset to his new team, though.
With Ibrahimovic pegged for significant minutes, the question is how will this impact Martial and Rashford. The young duo emerged as serious playmakers last season for Manchester United. In a year where former manager Louis Van Gaal was heavily criticized for boring, mundane tactics as the Red Devils finished outside of the top four for the second time in the past three campaigns, Rashford and Martial gave the club a much-needed attacking presence.
One potential problem with adding Ibrahimovic is that he can really only play one position (center forward). In fact, Ibrahimovic played exclusively center forward in the French Ligue 1 last season. This means that Mourinho will have to do some tinkering with his side to get Rashford and Martial, both of whom spent a lot of time at striker last season, into the lineup with the Swedish star.
How Ibrahimovic Impacts Martial
Martial was Manchester United's best player last season, and he made an impact immediately, netting a superb goal in his debut with the club.
Per Whoscored.com, the 20-year-old Frenchman was the Red Devils' highest-rated full-time player with a 7.23 rating, and they will surely want to keep the Martial in the side going forward. In English Premier League games, Martial led Manchester United in scoring with 11 goals, he was third on the team in key passes with 1.2 per game, and he led the team in dribbles per game with 2.7.
The good news for Manchester United is that Martial is capable of playing as an attacking winger or midfielder, and he is perhaps even better at these positions than he is as a striker. This will make it easy for Mourinho to get both he and Ibrahimovic into the team sheet.
According to whoscored.com Martial played 11 games last season as a center forward, scoring only 2 goals with 2 assists. In contrast, in 21 games as an attacking winger or midfielder, he scored 8 goals with 3 assists.
It's not a particularly large sample size, but it does seem as if Martial is perfectly capable of playing as an attacking winger or midfielder instead of as a center forward. This means that he should not lose too much, if any, playing time due to the arrival of Ibrahimovic.
How Ibrahimovic Impacts Rashford
Rashford only played in 11 Premier League games with Manchester United last season, but he made an impact when he was on the pitch. In those 11 appearances, the 18-year-old was able to score 5 goals with 2 assists.
If Rashford maintained that pace over a full 38-game season, his numbers would come out to 17 goals and 7 assists. Of course, we have no idea if Rashford can do that over a full season because the sample size is so small with him. Regardless, he made quite an impression as a teenager, displaying a willingness take on players and showing the ability to create a goal out of nothing.
The unfortunate thing about Rashford is, like Ibrahimovic, he exclusively played center forward in league games last season. Mourinho mainly used a 4-2-3-1 formation when he was with Chelsea, so unless Manchester United's new gaffer switches things up, Rashford and Ibrahimovic may not play together very often.
This means Manchester United could either use Rashford as a backup, or they could decide to send him out on loan. Another option is using Rashford as a starter in midweek games. Since Ibrahimovic is almost 35, it is very possible that Mourinho will be looking to get his prized signing some rest. Rashford could also come on as a sub late in games, which he was able to do effectively for England during Euro 2016.
Overall Impact of the Zlatan Signing
Ultimately, the addition of Ibrahimovic gives Manchester United a bonafide goal scorer, and they are a better team with him. Martial will likely move out wide as an attacking winger, but he will still be in the starting 11. Rashford is probably going to be forced into more of a backup role for this season, but he should get playing time in cup matches and as a sub, which will allow him to continue to grow as a player.
In short, the move for Ibrahimovic gives Manchester United a boost at center forward, it allows Martial to move to a position in which he's thrived, and it puts Rashford in a spot to be one of the most effective subs in the Premier League.
It's a great deal for Manchester United, and it could help them challenge for the league title.