The Red Devils haven’t had to change the way they play football, but the former Everton striker stretches the defence – creating gaps for the midfielder’s
MANCHESTER UNITED have transformed the way they play this season – and all they did was change their No 9.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was an inspired signing this time last year, scoring 17 goals in 28 Premier League games and becoming the focal point of the attack.
When Zlatan played, United’s system was a 4-1-4-1 and Graphic A shows the players’ average positions when United beat Saturday’s opponents Swansea 3-1 back in November.
The Swede is the type of No 9 who favours dropping deep to receive the ball – yet the positions of Wayne Rooney (No 10), Juan Mata (No 8) and Paul Pogba (No 6) are so close to Zlatan that, at times, it was tough for the midfielders to dictate play.
And United’s reliance on Zlatan to score goals was unbelievable – Mata’s six was the next best behind Ibrahimovic while Pogba, Rashford and Rooney got five each.
If Zlatan didn’t score, United usually didn’t win.
With Zlatan gone, the spotlight is now on Romelu Lukaku. The big, bruising Belgian is a different type of No 9 and it is already obvious the dynamics have changed.
Graphic B shows the players’ average positions during last week’s 4-0 rout of West Ham.
Lukaku, who scored two against the Hammers, likes to play on the shoulder of the defenders and I expect him to venture much further forward than Zlatan ever did.
Against West Ham, Pogba scored from outside the box and so, too, did Anthony Martial. And with Lukaku, I feel Pogba, Mata, Rashford, Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will all get more shooting opportunities.
As a defender, if I was up against Lukaku, I’d give myself a yard or two. But by dropping deep, your defence becomes narrow and this creates more space down the sides.
Lukaku stretches the defence, so a gap is created between the opposition’s midfield and defence – and it is in this gap that United can be so dangerous.
I see United scoring a greater share of goals from midfield now than during Jose Mourinho’s first season in charge – and plenty of goals from outside the box.
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