Ibrahimovic vs. Lukaku: Who will be crowned the king of United?

Omar Darwish
Contributing Writer

After weeks of speculation linking Real Madrid’s Álvaro Morata to Manchester United this past June, fans were led to believe he was the man José Mourinho had chosen to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic who seemed to be on his way out of Old Trafford.

The 24-year-old Spaniard has spent the majority of the previous season on the bench, and this is his chance to be the main man once again.

Delayed negotiations over his price tag on Real Madrid’s end led many to believe that the transfer went idle. However, when Morata posted photos of himself sporting his newly-dyed red hair, the contract was thought to be all said and done.

It was at this point that reports emerged linking Everton’s Romelu Lukaku with a shocking move to United. The transfer was completed within days and shocked Chelsea who were thought to be Lukaku’s preferred destination.

Real Madrid were also hit hard by the shocking turn of events as they now had to sell their unwanted striker to Chelsea for a significantly lower fee. The Morata negotiations were merely a cover-up for the bigger plans that Mourinho had as he eventually secured the striker he had wanted all along.

Fast forward one month and Lukaku was enjoying a dream debut at Old Trafford. Meanwhile, Morata’s Chelsea fell to an embarrassing home defeat to Burnley as the West London sun highlighted whatever red dye Morata could not get out of his hair.

The immediate reaction to this summer’s transfer sagas was a social media frenzy comparing their stats, with fans understandably defending the player their club had signed.

That is, of course, until United announced that they had re-signed Ibrahimovic after his unusually quick recovery from injury, and they even included him in their Champions League group stage squad that they announced just last week.

Attention quickly turned to the possible impact that Ibrahimovic’s return would have on Lukaku who after all was signed as Ibrahimovic’s replacement.

Going on 36 years of age, the enigmatic Swede has just had a stellar first campaign in England to hush critics who suggested he was finished at the top level, scoring 28 times across all competitions.

A serious double knee injury towards the end of April ended his season and was said to keep him out of competition for almost year. Less than six months on, the old man looks set to make a return, but where does that leave Lukaku?

The general consensus is that United’s performance last season was simply not good enough. After starting their league campaign promisingly with three wins in the first three games, their form quickly fell off, finishing the season in sixth place and barely scraping into the Champions League through their championship-winning performance in the UEFA Europa League. Overall, they scored a disappointing total of 58 goals.

United particularly struggled on home grounds, losing only once but picking up an overwhelming ten draws, most of which came against statistically weaker opposition.

Quite significantly, the majority of Lukaku’s goals for Everton that season also came at home and against weaker opposition. When Mourinho signed Lukaku, he supposedly addressed  United’s main concern directly, yet this suggestion is, frankly, rather naïve.

For starters, teams approach Everton differently than they do United. They do not get as many men behind the ball. This offered Lukaku a lot more space to operate. This is where he is at his most dangerous.

He will not be getting nearly as much space playing for United, especially not at Old Trafford where teams often set up camp just outside their side’s box and rely on the counter attacks to score goals.

Another point to consider regarding United’s home form is that, while they did have trouble scoring and consequently turning one point into three, they did not necessarily struggle to break teams down.

Old Trafford saw the opposition goalkeeper awarded man of the match in more than half of the 10 home draws, though United’s finishing at times was truly abysmal.

Ibrahimovic himself topped the charts in important missed chances with 18, five more than anyone else in the league.

We can expect to see Lukaku start a lot more often this season, being younger, fitter, and more able to fill in United’s missing gaps than the older Ibrahimovic.

However, if teams continue to sit back against United, they will have to turn to Ibrahimovic’s experience and skill-level to break down defenses, something he is far more adept at doing than Lukaku.

What we can be sure of, knowing Mourinho, is that we will not be seeing the two strikers playing side-by-side unless United falls in a late-game time of need.

Despite his skill-set, Lukaku is not the magic solution to United’s goal-scoring problem. He has been brought in to replace a striker that bagged 28 goals last season, and he is hardly going to do better than that in his first campaign.

If United wants to avoid another failed run at the Premier League title, at least three or four other players will have to achieve double figure goal-scoring this season. Regardless of who plays more often, expect both men to play a major role in United’s title challenge and to score loads of goals in the process.

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