Football

Will Zlatan help or hinder Lukaku?

Pundits differ in their views on a strike partnership between Man United's top two strikers

The long-awaited return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from injury during last Saturday's 4-1 win over Newcastle United has stirred much excitement in the red half of Manchester.

But it has also sparked debate about how the Swede's return will impact Manchester United's current No. 1 striker and the man signed to replace him, Romelu Lukaku.

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On Saturday, Ibrahimovic entered the fray at Old Trafford in the 77th minute for Anthony Martial and proceeded to occupy the No. 10 position behind Lukaku.

But when Juan Mata departed in the 83rd minute, the Belgian was shunted to the right wing while the 36-year-old moved into the No. 9 position he has reprised for most of his career.

Ahead of Manchester United's Champions League clash with Basel which could seal their spot in the Round of 16 tomorrow morning (Singapore time), former Liverpool and England defender Jamie Carragher said that the powerful pair can't dovetail as an effective front two.

He told Sky Sports: "I don't think they can play together as a front two. I think that's the most important goal in that 4-1 victory...

"You watch him (Ibrahimovic) when he comes on, I think this is hilarious. I don't know if (manager) Jose (Mourinho) has told him to do this, but he comes on and tells Lukaku to go on the right wing, and he does it."

His fellow pundit on Monday Night Football on Sky Sports, Craig Bellamy, too believes Ibrahimovic's presence could affect Lukaku's confidence.

Said the former Manchester City and Wales forward: "The concern with Zlatan is that he is such a big character, always the main man, wherever he's been.

"When Zlatan walks into the room, everyone knows he's there. Would it impact my confidence? I imagine Lukaku really looks up to him.

"But it could become a problem, the energy Zlatan creates, it will be all about him, and it's always been that way.

"Forwards are a little bit different, forwards have to be that little bit more selfish about what you need to do for the team, it has to be a bit about you, because that's where you get your confidence, you win the games.

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"Lukaku can't play anywhere else apart from up front, he can't play either side, so it's going to be interesting.

"The way I see it, there are a lot of games, both will get a lot of game time, but the problems will come when the big games arrive."

However, former Manchester United and England striker Andy Cole believes that rather than hindering the hulking Belgian, Ibrahimovic will bring the best out of the 24-year-old.

He told Manchester United's official website: "I was fortunate to be in that position at United, having other players after your place, and that competition brings the best out of you.

"I definitely think Zlatan will bring the best out of him (Lukaku)."

Fellow former Manchester United striker Louis Saha, meanwhile, believes Ibrahimovic's return just seven months after a potentially career-ending knee injury will give United a fillip similar to when Paul Scholes reversed his decision to retire in January 2012.

The England man's return helped United wrest the Premier League crown back from Manchester City in 2013.

Former French international Saha told Manchester United's official website: "It's like Paul Scholes coming back from retirement, it is like he is still young and has the legs.

"But because of this level of player, they understand the game, they know how to give the information to the youngsters." - WIRE SERVICES

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