Jose Mourinho expects Zlatan Ibrahimovic to complement rather than compete with Romelu Lukaku after welcoming the striker back to the Manchester United squad, along with Paul Pogba.
Both players make eagerly anticipated returns to United colours against Newcastle in today’s late kick-off, with Pogba in contention to start after a two-month lay-off and Ibrahimovic among the substitutes for the first time since injuring his cruciate knee ligaments in April.
Defender Marcos Rojo is also restored to the matchday squad, having injured his knee in the same match as Ibrahimovic.
United have not been the same force since Pogba was sidelined in October, a fact acknowledged by Mourinho, while Ibrahimovic brought skill, swagger, and the small matter of 28 goals in his first season at Old Trafford.
Much has happened since the charismatic Swede last represented the club: His contract officially lapsed in July, a new one was signed in August and Mourinho signed Lukaku for £75m (€85m).
The Belgian scored 11 times in his first 10 appearances but is on a barren run of seven games without a goal. Ibrahimovic’s presence in the dugout may be seen as an added pressure but Mourinho is enthused by the freedom it offers.
“I am excited because I have more options, I am excited because the team can be better, I am excited because I want to have players available,” he said. I don’t want to make a situation of Zlatan and Romelu because it can be Zlatan and Romelu, it can be just Zlatan, it can be just Romelu, or it can be just no one. I want options and I have more options now in attack.
“He (Ibrahimovic) can play everywhere, and this season we played so many times with two strikers. Especially when we played three at the back and the wing backs, we brought the second man to the centre so we can do it, we are ready to do it and we prepare ourselves since pre-season (to do it)... Good players can play together. Is easy to play together. The problem is when the players are not good.”
Pogba’s return is significant given his imposing form at the start of the season and United’s lack of a comparable understudy.
“I can say now because he’s back, I don’t like to speak while he’s injured, you can clearly see there is a Manchester United this season before Paul’s injury and after Paul’s injury,” said Mourinho.
“There are qualities in our football, qualities that influence our approach in matches, with Pogba and without Pogba. Simple as that.”
Mourinho and Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez pair are long-standing rivals and occasional critics of each other’s work but have not crossed paths in the Premier League in a decade.
“I don’t play Rafa, I play Newcastle. That’s the point,” said Mourinho. “‘I’m really good at forgetting little things in football, bad words or moments of conflict. I’m really good at forgetting that. I have immense respect for him.”
Benitez said: “We will play against Manchester United. It’s not the key, one manager or the two managers. Mourinho has won a lot of trophies in different countries with a lot of teams, so he’s a good manager, and that’s it.”
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