Romelu Lukaku scored a fine volley in midweek against CSKA Moscow but it was just his second goal in 13 games and his form has really dipped.
Man Utd are now gearing up for their biggest game of the season and Zlatan Ibrahimovic has returned from injury, giving Jose Mourinho an interesting selection dilemma.
Last season the leonine Swede was the club’s leading scorer and his 28 goals fired them to glory in the Europa League and EFL Cup. He offers a genuinely exciting alternative to Lukaku up front and, while he may not be 100% match fit, he might give Man City’s defenders more to think about at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Check a review of BetOnline for the best odds and you will see that Man Utd are huge underdogs for the upcoming Manchester derby. That is a worrying state of affairs for the fans, who will never get used to seeing Utd as underdogs when playing at Old Trafford, especially not when the visitors are the noisy neighbours of Man City.
But City are around 6/5 with most bookmakers, while Utd are all the way out at 12/5. That would never have happened at the start of the season, when Lukaku was at his hulking, devastating best. He banged in seven goals in as many games at the start of the campaign and terrorised defenders with his movement, aerial ability and sheer physical presence.
However, Paul Pogba suffered an injury and Lukaku – who seems to love playing with the marauding French midfielder – suffered an alarming dip in form. A seven-game goal drought was ended on Pogba’s return to the side, a 4-1 win over Newcastle.
But he then went another four games without a goal, before converting Pogba’s raking through ball against CSKA Moscow. Pogba of course is suspended for the Manchester derby after he was sent off in the 3-1 win at Arsenal, and Lukaku will have to get used to playing without him if he is given the nod to start against Man City at the weekend.
The 3-1 victory over Arsenal was a masterclass in smash and grab football, and it would be harder to play like that with Ibrahimovic in the team. He lacks the pace and mobility of Lukaku, so Utd may not be able to break with such speed and directness. But the chief proponents of that against Arsenal were Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard, and they could operate either side of Ibrahimovic to excellent effect.
One thing Ibrahimovic will always bring is confidence. He has unwavering self-belief and he has the stats to back it up, having always scored plenty of goals and won plenty of trophies wherever he has gone.
Lukaku has a long way to go before he can be mentioned in the same breath. Ibrahimovic can conjure something out of nothing, more so than any player in the Man Utd squad, and he illustrated that perfectly when he scored a superb volley on City’s last visit to the Theatre of Dreams.
He is a big game player, while Lukaku has failed to score against any of the big six this season and struggled against them during his time at Everton.
There is a compelling case for Ibrahimovic to start, but Mourinho is not much of a risk taker and is highly unlikely to hand him such responsibility in a game of this magnitude.
Win and Utd will blow the title race wide open, but lose and City will be 11 points clear and still unbeaten as we head into the festive season, by which point you can write off Utd’s chances of winning the league.
Lukaku will surely get the nod, but Ibrahimovic is a great option to have on the bench, and the Belgian should know that he will be hauled off if he does not perform, which should inspire him to a strong performance against City’s suspect centre-backs.