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Transfer Rater: Talisca to Manchester United

Football Whispers

Conte's last stand, trophy-hunter Mourinho on prowl

FA Cup

Rashford to rekindle last season's magic in Ibra's Man United absence

On Tuesday afternoon it was confirmed that Zlatan Ibrahimovic would miss Manchester United's next three games, including the FA Cup tie against Chelsea, after he admitted a violent conduct charge.

Despite initially claiming that Tyrone Mings jumped in to his elbow, during United's home draw with Bournemouth, Ibrahimovic clearly realised he wasn't going to get away with it. The fact that Mings was charged for intentionally stamping on Ibrahimovic's head, the cause for the retaliatory elbow, served as evidence that the FA knew exactly what had happened between the pair.

Ibrahimovic will miss league games against Middlesbrough and West Ham, on top of the trip to Stamford Bridge, which may lead some to worry about United's chances of victory without their talisman.

There's no denying that Ibrahimovic has been a huge player for United this season. Not only is he the club's top scorer, he's been influential in the dressing room too, with a whole host of players singing his praises.

Marcus Rashford is one of many in the dressing room to hail the impact of Zlatan's "winning mentality" on the squad. If there was any player who might begrudge the Swede's presence, it should be Rashford, who has lost his place in his preferred position as a result of Ibrahimovic signing for United. Yet the youngster has repeatedly spoken of his gratitude at getting to play and train alongside someone with the former PSG player's ability, experience and mindset.

United fans will be hoping that Rashford can step in during the three-match suspension, rather than Wayne Rooney, with his pace an attribute that Ibrahimovic doesn't come close to matching. Some supporters have called for this change earlier in the season though, with talk of United's dependence on Ibrahimovic not painting an accurate picture of his true value.

Rashford Ibra Man United
Marcus Rashford is on the record about being thrilled to train and play alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

A return of 26 goals is hard to argue with, particularly when two of those were goals in a cup final which saw United lift their second piece of silverware in 10 months when beating Southampton in the League Cup final last month.

Yet it's also worth noting that only Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool have had more shots than United this season, having played a game more, and United's conversion rate is the worst.

In terms of big chances missed, Ibrahimovic is streets ahead of any striker in the league with 17. To give that context, Bournemouth's Benik Afobe is the next biggest culprit with nine. When looking at players with more goals than Ibrahimovic this season, Harry Kane, Diego Costa and Alexis Sanchez have been guilty of just seven big misses, and Romelu Lukaku eight.

United's finishing on the whole has been atrocious, having 136 shots in the seven home draws they've endured, with 49 of those on target, yet only managing to produce five goals. It will make United fans' heads hurt to learn that Manchester City's Leroy Sane has six goals from eight shots on target this season.

While Ibrahimovic can't be held solely responsible for these misses, as the centre-forward and the only striker, playing the full 90 minutes in 25 of the 26 league games United have played, he has to take the brunt of the blame. His tame penalty that cost his team the three points against Bournemouth last weekend maybe a tell-tale sign that Ibrahimovic needs a rest.

Rashford has played centrally on a few occasions this season, always in cup competitions, and has had mixed fortunes. This shouldn't come too much as a surprise given that he hasn't had a regular game time up front, with Jose Mourinho preferring to use him out wide to accommodate Ibrahimovic.

However, when you look back to last season, when Louis van Gaal used him as a No.9, Rashford did very well. The teenager scored eight goals in 18 appearances, working out at a goal every 176.9 minutes. This season, Ibrahimovic has 26 goals in 39 appearances, working out at a goal every 123.5 minutes.

Some may say this is clear evidence for Ibra being the more prolific of the two, but it's worth remembering that Mourinho's United is far more creative than anything Van Gaal managed to produce. The outfit Rashford was scoring for last season were ranked 15th in terms of chances created.

We can only speculate over how many goals United might have scored with Rashford leading the line in this attacking style that Mourinho employs, in contrast to the depressing football from Van Gaal. Rashford did only miss three big chances in the league though.

It's a shame for the youngster that it's likely the first opportunity he will have to prove himself is away to Chelsea in the FA Cup. United have just two wins from their last 15 visits to Stamford Bridge, the most recent a narrow 3-2 victory against the nine men of Chelsea in 2012.

Yet with goals against Manchester City and Arsenal last season, Rashford has shown he's not overawed by any opponent and will be desperate to make an impression on Mourinho in Ibrahimovic's absence. After a dream start to his United career last season, he will be hoping for more magic when his team travel to London on Monday.

Scott is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.


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