“I’m not surprised,” Jose Mourinho commented on Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s impressive form following his 12th goal in 17 Premier League appearances. “He’s a very intelligent guy and a very proud man. For him to decide to come to Manchester United, the Premier League, the most difficult league in the world for a striker – it’s because he knows he can do it.”
The Swede’s trademark arrogance has not only been backed up by his stunning return in both goals and silverware throughout his career, but it’s evidently contagious and something Mourinho is actively instilling back into what has looked like a feeble Manchester United side over the past few years.
And while the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era has been somewhat of a struggle at Old Trafford, having significantly dropped from their perch following the Scot’s retirement, 2017 promises to see Man Utd’s resurrection as title contenders.
Not only has Ibrahimovic’s ruthlessness already provided more goals than last season’s top scorer for the club last season in Anthony Martial, but he has reintroduced a combative nature back into the Red Devils. In fact, no Premier League player has registered more fouls than the former Paris Saint-Germain frontman this season (38
Paul Pogba runs him close, though, with 36. And the upturn in the Frenchman’s form has permeated a belief around Old Trafford that the record-breaking fee laid out for him in the summer was not as excessive as first thought.
Pogba’s all-action performances for Italian champions Juventus proved impossible to replicate in the early stages of his United return, though a tweaked formation and with time to settle into Mourinho’s system he has seen a rapid up rise in form. Pogba has now scored three and assisted three more in his 17 appearances and established himself as the central point in the team. His aggression and athleticism off the ball – combined with his guile on it – has provided Ibrahimovic a platform to thrive as a lone front man and has led to Mourinho claiming he’s “the best midfielder in the world”.
Alongside Ander Herrera, who has accepted the unglamorous role in the middle of the team and executed it perfectly, Pogba’s presence has also allowed Mourinho to experiment with his defensive unit throughout the campaign.
The Portuguese’s decision to hand Phil Jones a run in the first-team has proved a shrewd one, with the England man churning out imposing performances on a regular basis since his return. Mourinho now has a tight-knit select to choose from at the back, with arguably the world’s most valuable goalkeeper in David de Gea behind them, as well as one of the most clinical goalscorers in Europe.
Sandwiched between is what now looks like a well-oiled midfield, a number of ever-improving outlets such as Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who is flourishing under his new-found importance, and the January transfer window within touching distance.
United have now won four consecutive Premier League fixtures for the first time this season, seeing them unbeaten in 10 in all competitions and with a favourable run of games spanning into the new year. Only Liverpool from their next six league encounters are in the top half of the Premier League table, with a home tie against Watford to follow.
Mourinho’s men will have to go some way to overturn the 13-point deficit between themselves and current leaders Chelsea but they now have everything in hand to run them close. And while this season may be a little too soon for the Portuguese and his staff, the extortionate amount of money likely to be spent on players in the summer, with Antoine Griezmann tipped to join his international team-mate Pogba next season, there’s no question they’ll be title contenders in 2017-18.
“I give everything I have. I have nothing more to give in terms of my time, my desire and my ambition,” Mourinho replied when questioned on his happiness at the club, something which he has built his reputation on. He will, no question, continue to spread the invincible mentality throughout the Old Trafford ranks in 2017 and replenish what was once a fearsome reputation, built and maintained by Ferguson, to achieve what he has been set out to by those above him at the club.