Rio Ferdinand has noted that Manchester United could benefit from Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s absence from the first team over the next few weeks.
The Swede, who has 28 goals to his name this season, suffered “significant” knee ligament damage during Man United’s 2-1 win over Anderlecht and will miss the rest of the campaign.
Anthony Martial, with Marcus Rashford receiving a rest, filled the 35-year-old’s boots against Burnley and impressed many – including Gary Neville, who noted that Jose Mourinho’s men looked more threatening going forward with the Frenchman at No.9 – with an energetic display hallmarked by a goal and an assist.
And Ferdinand, speaking after the 2-0 win at Turf Moor, noted that United could be better off without Zlatan in the side as the season approaches its climax.
“When he hasn’t played, the younger players seem like they can breathe a bit easier,” he said.
“They seem like they flourish on the pitch without him.
“That’s no fault of his own, it’s just that his personality goes onto other people’s shoulders and weighs them down because he’s such a big personality.
“He’s demanding, he’s a huge character and the history he’s got as a player, some young players might think, ‘I can’t talk to him, I should pass him the ball.’
“When he’s not on the pitch it might free up the other teammates to perform better and we saw in the last game the young lads performed admirably, so it may work in Manchester United’s favour in that sense.”
There have been moments this season where Zlatan’s sheer presence – that huge, looming figure, dripping with reputation and grandeur – has felt too big. He is, of course, an historical talent, but perhaps that is part of the problem: Mourinho’s men, with the Swede on the pitch, will always feel compelled to use him as their main reference point going forward.
Zlatan’s booming visage demands attention, but it has, in turn, precipitated a sense of predictability about United’s attacking movements on occasion this season.
This is indeed why the rawness of both Martial and Rashford could prove to be so invigorating over the next few weeks. Mourinho’s men will know that their upcoming fixtures demand less steady domination and more cut-throat efficiency – a kind of ‘one ruthless attack, one goal, move on’ sort of approach.
The instinctive nature of the aforementioned pair could prove to be the Portuguese’s most valuable tool as United wade further in to the crucial phase of their season.