Michael Owen believes that Manchester United teammates prefer playing with Marcus Rashford at No.9 over Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The big Swede firmly established himself as Man United’s first choice No.9 this season, claiming 28 goals in the process, before suffering a knee ligament injury against Anderlecht that ruled him out for the rest of the campaign.
Rashford has since occupied the No.9 and dazzled the watching world with a sensational performance and winning goal against Celta Vigo on Thursday.
And Owen, speaking soon after United’s 1-0 win in Spain, noted that United’s players may well prefer playing alongside Rashford in the long term.
“I think if you ask his team-mates, they would probably prefer to play with Rashford up-front,” he said.
“He just gives them options. Zlatan will always score a few more goals than Rashford if they both started every week together.
“But I think the team will score a lot more with Rashford in the team (on his own). The over-riding factor is that I think he’s here to stay.”
There is indeed something about Zlatan’s presence that, whilst unavoidably empowering on a psychological level, engenders a sense of predictability to United’s attacking movement. You sense that players almost feel obligated to pick out the 35-year-old whenever they can; this is the kind of over-sweeping aura Zlatan possesses.
What it leads to, more often than not, is a sense of predictability about United going forward. Opponents have sussed out the fact that stopping the supply route to Zlatan or forcing him deeper thwarts the side’s overall momentum.
Rashford, on the other hand, places unpredictability at the heart of his approach: his buzzing, ceaseless style, moving from one side of the pitch to the other in a flash, keeps defenders on their toes. He has provided an emphatic alternative to Zlatan going forward that Mourinho will have to seriously think about over the summer with next season in mind.