English Premier League

Zlatan Ibrahimovic dilemma for Mourinho, as Manchester United boss confirms Bailly ankle surgery

Swedish striker could come in for Romelu Lukaku and make his first start of the season at West Brom, while defender Eric Bailly could be out for three months

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 December, 2017, 11:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 December, 2017, 11:00am

Jose Mourinho must decide whether now is the time to recall Zlatan Ibrahimovic to his starting line-up as Manchester United prepare to visit West Brom in the Premier League on Sunday.

The former Paris Saint-Germain striker has played 73 minutes in five substitute appearances since returning from cruciate knee ligament damage against Newcastle in November.

There were fears Ibrahimovic’s career may be finished after he suffered the injury during a Europa League quarter-final victory over Anderlecht in April.

The 36-year-old’s return to fitness came sooner than most expected, although it is clear that Mourinho is wary of asking him to do too much too soon.

United’s manager suggested a week ago that Ibrahimovic, who has yet to score since his comeback, is not yet ready to play a full 90 minutes, but the form of Romelu Lukaku may cause a rethink soon.

Lukaku did score the first-half winner in midweek as United beat Bournemouth, 1-0, at Old Trafford, but has looked below par for the past two months, with just three goals in 15 games.

“There will be a bit of rotation,” said Mourinho without directly addressing the Lukaku situation.

“I’ll change a few players from match to match, because I think it is almost impossible for players to play all these matches in December and the beginning of January.”

Lukaku’s goal did at least lift the mood at United, which was pretty low after last Sunday’s home defeat by neighbours Manchester City.

It was a result that left Mourinho’s side still second in the league but now 11 points behind Pep Guardiola’s leaders and with diminishing hopes of getting back into the title race.

Mourinho tried to put the 38 points his side have accrued into some perspective.

“We are second. The number of points could be first in other seasons, but we are second,” said Mourinho.

“We go one match at a time and let’s see at the end of the season how many points we have and where we are.”

A further setback off the pitch came with Mourinho’s confirmation that centre-back Eric Bailly, who has not played since November 5, needs ankle surgery and is likely to be out for the next three months.