A Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimović partnership is never going to work5 min read
It was always going to be a long shot to get these two centre forwards to work in tandem at Manchester United. Individually, when in form and fit, both Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimović are two of the best strikers in Europe, but they do not click as well as José Mourinho would have hoped.
Against Burnley on Boxing Day, where the Red Devils drew 2-2, it was clear to see that this partnership was easily nullified by opponents. There was no zip, no drive, and no penetration with any of their play – it was all very one dimensional and easy to thwart.
Lukaku and Ibrahimović are similar in how they play with their back to goal, holding the ball up and either trying to turn and shoot or bring others into the game. Rarely will you see either pinning the defence back, deep into their own half.
This is therefore a problem for Mourinho as he now has two strikers who do practically the same job, take up the same spaces, and yet do not gel together. A static forward line is the easiest to stop in its tracks and Burnley showed that with relative ease.
Incidentally, the now-retired Sweden international was hooked at half time due to his inactivity and failure to stamp his authority on the game. Since his return, he has been off the boil completely. It is hard to blame him, really, given he is now 36 years old and has returned from a near career-ending injury.
But there is no place for sentiment at Manchester United anymore. They simply cannot afford any niceties when they are so far off their across-town rivals and league leaders Manchester City.
Throughout those 45 minutes, both players were ineffective in breaking down a well organised Burnley defence. There was no impetus, drive or ingenuity while playing together, instead, it was just a lifeless and lacklustre performance.
Mourinho also does not possess the wide players that are possibly needed in order to make that partnership flourish. In the game against Burnley, the Portuguese boss used Juan Mata on the right with Marcus Rashford on the left.
The Spaniard is not a right winger and does not possess the turn of speed needed; he will almost always turn back inside and try to go through the middle. Mata’s a classy player, no doubt about it, but he should not be used in a wide position.
Rashford, too, is not a winger. For starters, the England international cannot successfully cross a ball into the danger zone, as he is more used to being on the end of one. He has struggled in the past month, simply because opponents have figured out everything there is to Rashford’s game in a wide position.
In Man United’s scoreless draw against Southampton, Rashford was forced to go through the middle as Lukaku had suffered a nasty head injury. It was evident that he is more of a centre forward than anything else as he looked comfortable stretching defences and positioning himself on the shoulder of the last man.
Ibrahimović is now ruled out for another month due to a recurring knee problem, and it looks like his long, successful career is now drawing the curtains. Manchester United will not offer him a contract extension and now must look at the long term picture.
The Swede has had a glorious 12 months with the club and it will be remembered fondly by Manchester United fans, but there is now no time or place for sentiment among the Board. It is time to act ruthlessly and cut the loose ends away.