Zlatan Ibrahimović to start but Wayne Rooney likely to miss out as Jose Mourinho has rethink

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Updated: September 29, 2016
Football

There were rumours that Zlatan Ibrahimović was going to miss the Europa League tie against Zorya Luhansk with Wayne Rooney starting instead but this is not the case.

Jose Mourinho has confirmed that ‘Zlatan’ will start on Thursday evening – the Swede has started well for United and teammate Jesse Lingard has come out and said that the summer signing is becoming the team’s new on-field leader.

Lingard hailed the influence of Ibrahimovic, particularly in the absence of Rooney, saying: “He’s been a leader for the team, especially when the captain’s not playing.

“He’s stepped up and he’s really led the team. Obviously the young lads look up to him and most of the older lads do as well. We’ve seen what he’s done in his career and obviously he wants to win trophies with Man United.

“He talks to the young lads a lot, especially me and Marcus (Rashford), and Paul Pogba, to help us through the games. He’s always there for us and he’s always there for the team.”

Henrikh Mkhitaryan is still missing with a thigh problem, although he did train on Wednesday and full-back Luke Shaw was sent home because of illness – On a positive winger Anthony Martial is fit and likely to start.

As for Rooney, who is supposed to be the club’s leader, he is likely to have to settle for a place on the bench again as the ‘Special One’ does not feel the Manchester United captain can afford a below-par performance.

Rooney was left out of Saturday’s starting XI for the Premier League game against Leicester following the criticism he had received for his recent performances – And that move paid off as they went on to win 4-1.

Mourinho did say that his decision was based on exploiting Leicester’s weaknesses rather than being based on Rooney’s form and that he had planned to start the striker in the Europa League on Thursday.

But Rooney had been struggling with an injury to his back this week and only returned to full training on Wednesday, which has left Mourinho to have second thoughts about playing him as he tries to “protect” the England captain.

The United boss said: “Wayne Rooney is selected, I didn’t decide yet if I start with him.

“He didn’t train yesterday, he did just a little bit of the session on Monday. Today was the first time that he had a training session with the other players and today is the training session where the intensity and the complexity is obviously reduced because we have a game tomorrow.

“So I was completely convinced of playing him tomorrow from the beginning. But with this situation in the last couple of days I’m not sure if I’ll do that because, with the situation that you create for him, I think really he can’t afford to have a performance that is not really good.

“Because I’m here to protect him and not to put him in difficult situations, I have to analyse if the best thing for him is to start the game if he is not totally ready for it, so I’m going to discuss that with him and the medical staff.”

United’s performance without Rooney against Leicester was impressive – in the first half they were dominant against the Premier League Champions leaving people asking if Rooney has a future at the club.

Midfielder Jesse Lingard spoke about Rooney’s absence: “I don’t think there was a difference, it’s just the mentality on the match day.

“Wayne’s a top-class professional, top-class player, who’s won many things with Man United and he’s still got many years to go. He’s an inspirational guy and he’s a leader.

“Obviously against Leicester the manager switched up the team, gave it a different dynamic, and we won the game but, with or without him, we’re going to do the best we can as a team, because we are a team and we’re going to stick together.”

United lost their opening Europa League game against Feyenoord two weeks ago, during that miserable run of three defeats in a row, and now Mourinho knows he his side can’t afford to drop many points if they are to reach the last 32.

 

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