Premier League Fantasy Preview: Manchester United
Manchester United have finally turned to José Mourinho, the manager who made no secret of his desire to take over from Alex Ferguson.
Mourinho has a lot to prove for perhaps the first time in his managerial career, having been sacked by Chelsea for the second time. After leading the Blues to the Premier League title again, Mourinho then lost control of his squad and was fired with the club in disarray.
The Portuguese manager looks sharp and well-rested again, however, and United have invested heavily in new talent in a bid to get the club back into the Champions League after missing out on a top-four place under Louis van Gaal last season. The arrival of Ibrahimović in particular adds stardust and A-list ability to the United attack.
Mourinho is as close as there is in football to a guarantee of trophies, but he faces a lot of competition from old rival Pep Guardiola, who has taken over at Manchester City. Their battle looks set to be one of the biggest stories of this Premier League campaign.
Likely tactics and formation
Mourinho typically played a 4-2-3-1 that could morph into a 4-3-3 during his time at Chelsea, but due to the need to accommodate Ibrahimović it is quite possible that two strikers will be played.
It has already been hinted by Mourinho that he sees Ibrahimović and teenage sensation Marcus Rashford as an ideal partnership, so they could well get the chance to play up front together.
Mourinho’s teams are always very strong at the back and he has a reputation for closing matches down once his side are ahead, although Old Trafford might demand more attacking ambition.
Ibrahimović cannot be expected to start every game at his age but the enigmatic Swede will be involved in all of United’s biggest matches, with fellow new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan also likely to go straight into Mourinho’s strongest team.
A third new signing, Eric Bailly, will be in the heart of the defence, while David de Gea will continue in goal after rumours linking him with a move to Real Madrid died down recently.
De Gea has developed into one of the finest young goalkeepers in world football while at United and he could progress further under the leadership of Mourinho.
The 25-year-old also became Spain’s number one goalkeeper at Euro 2016, although it was a disappointing tournament for the defending champions, who lost to Italy in the last-16.
De Gea’s main goalkeeping cover comes from the Argentina international stopper Sergio Romero.
Bailly, a £30 million summer purchase from Villarreal, is just 22 but the Ivory Coast international looks set to play a key role in the United defence this season, with Chris Smalling his most likely partner in the middle of the back line.
Luke Shaw could take the left-back slot after recovering from an awful double leg break, with Italy international Matteo Darmian the most likely player in the squad to line up at right-back this year.
Mkhitaryan’s best role is as a number 10 but he may also be asked to play off the flank depending on the formation Mourinho decides to go with in the Premier League this season.
Shielding midfield options include Bastian Schweinsteiger, Michael Carrick, Morgan Schneiderlin and Daley Blind, with Juan Mata and Ander Herrera competing for more attacking roles.
Mourinho may well opt for a three-pronged forward line in the Premier League this season, with Ibrahimović operating as a central pivot for the rest of the team’s attack to revolve around.
Anthony Martial and Rashford are both strong contenders to play up front with the Swede, but Mourinho also has to find a role for club captain Wayne Rooney.
Rooney ended last season playing in midfield and operated in the same role for England at Euro 2016, but Mourinho has indicated he sees the 30-year-old as a striker.
United have a large squad and Mourinho may well trim it in the weeks leading up to the big kick-off, with the likes of Phil Jones, Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young possibly now surplus to requirements unless the Portuguese manager decides the trio can be of use to him.
Antonio Valencia offers versatile cover up the right flank, while extra defenders include Jones, Marcos Rojo and a host of talented young players. In midfield, Herrera and Mata are likely to feature on the bench, while Rashford’s first-team opportunities are likely to come as a sub. Blind’s versatility could make him one of Mourinho’s most trusted lieutenants during this season too.
As the team’s new star man, Ibrahimović may well demand to take free-kicks for United this season, although there are a lot of options available to Mourinho in this department.
Rooney is proven as a dangerous free-kick taker, while Mata is also capable of set-piece brilliance, with the pair also likely to step up from corners – rather than Phil Jones. Penalties will likely go to Rooney if he is on the pitch and to Ibrahimović if he is not.
Mourinho signalled his intention to make four big signings after his appointment and three of them have already been completed, with big money spent on Bailly and Mkhitaryan, while Ibrahimović will be one of the best paid players in the Premier League, if not in the whole world.
But Mourinho still wants one more arrival before the start of the campaign, with Paul Pogba the main target. Bids of over £90 million have reportedly been rejected by Juventus, but a deal looks likely to be completed for the France international midfielder in the next few weeks.
Pogba began his career at Old Trafford and allowing him to leave the club on a free transfer – he has won Serie A every year at Juve since his departure – is a highly expensive mistake.