Losing Zlatan Ibrahimovic could prove a boost for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United

Trevor Steven
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Manchester United FC v Feyenoord - UEFA Europa League
Ibrahimovic ans Rashford have been United's brightest sparks this season (Source: Getty)

The shocking terror attack in Manchester on Monday evening puts Wednesday's Europa League final between Manchester United and Ajax firmly into perspective. It’s only a football match and it’s difficult to find the necessary focus.

But European governing body Uefa confirmed yesterday that the clash will go ahead and it remains a massive match for the Red Devils. If they win the game then their season turns into a great one. That’s how big it is.

If United secure the Europa League title then that’s as good as finishing second in the top flight. There are no trophies for coming second or third in the Premier League, only Champions League qualification.

So should Jose Mourinho’s side prevail in Stockholm this evening, a return to Europe’s elite club competition will have been achieved with two trophies won in the process, following February’s EFL Cup final victory over Southampton.

Bizarrely, Mourinho will have overachieved as his brief at the start of the season would probably have been to seal Champions League qualification and win a piece of silverware.

It will be a great output from a campaign of mediocrity at Old Trafford, with accomplishments achieved in a really average way. But whatever happens on Wednesday, it’s a huge summer for Mourinho.

There are not many United players who would get into the Chelsea or Tottenham side, for instance. Probably only Marcus Rashford at a push. For me, United are a long way from winning the Premier League with their current group of players.

The balance of the squad is wrong, there is no fluidity nor clarity of thought at United. The jigsaw doesn’t work. It can be argued that Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is currently sidelined with knee ligament damage, prevents United cultivating a style of play which can elevate them to title challengers.

Ibrahimovic has been a great signing in many respects. He has scored 28 goals across all competitions and has been an iconic figurehead who has given United their brand back. But because of his lack of pace, he has perhaps restricted them in other ways.

When Gary Lineker was at Everton during the 1985-86 season, both myself and Kevin Sheedy scored a fraction of the goals we had netted in the previous campaign. Sometimes there is simply an imbalance.

There has to be changes at United. I’m sure there will be new faces but, in respect of Ibrahimovic, who is out of contract this summer, Mourinho has some thinking to do.

If the 35-year-old stays, the Portuguese will have to devise a system and style which accommodates him without stifling the rest of the side. If the former Sweden skipper opts to go, there is an argument to suggest United can start to play with the strength and power which they need to in order to become a sustainable top-flight force.

Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who has played at two World Cups and two European Championships. @TrevorSteven63

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