Lukaku vs Ibrahimovic: How does Man Utd’s £75m frontman compare to free agent?

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The Red Devils have acquired proven frontmen in each of the last two summers, but how do the respective records of two talismanic No. 9s stack up?

In the summer of 2016, Manchester United found themselves in the market for a new leading man, with a suitable successor required to fill the boots once donned by Denis Law, Mark Hughes, Eric Cantona, Andy Cole and Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was duly snapped up as a free agent, with the enigmatic Swede considered to boast both the ability and personality to thrive in the pressure cooker of Old Trafford.

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Twelve months on and the Red Devils found themselves back in an all too familiar position.

This time, £75 million was spent luring Romelu Lukaku away from Everton, with his record as a proven performer in the Premier League edging him to the top of Jose Mourinho’s wish list.

Both recruits made positive starts to life in Manchester, but who offered the most to the collective cause while donning the famous No. 9 jersey?


GOALS


Romelu Lukaku Manchester United Premier League stats 091117

Goals are the most important aspect for any striker, with United having relied heavily on their No. 9 to lead from the front and provide attacking inspiration in the final third.

Lukaku burst out of the blocks, netting seven times in as many Premier League appearances and on 11 occasions in all competitions, but that tally has now gone seven outings without being improved upon and the Belgian also has one missed penalty to his name.

Ibrahimovic, meanwhile, went through his first 11 games in the English top-flight netting six times, including one header, a successful spot-kick and two efforts from outside the box, while finding the target eight times across all competitions.

The Swede’s worst run in a United shirt saw him go six matches without troubling the scorers.


CONVERSION


Zlatan Ibrahimovic Manchester United Premier League 11 games

Lukaku was acquired for his finishing ability, and he has not let United down.

Chances may have dried up of late, but he cannot shoulder all of the blame for that and his conversion rate of 24.14 per cent and shooting accuracy of 62.07 suggests that his barren run will quickly be ended if the Red Devils can carve him out some openings.

Ibrahimovic’s conversion figures through the same period sat down at 13.95, while his shooting accuracy was only 51.16 and his big chance conversion percentage some way down on Lukaku’s mark of 58.33 at just 20%.


ASSISTS


Romelu Lukaku Zlatan Ibrahimovic Manchester United assists

Proving that he is more than just a goalscorer, Lukaku has offered more to the collective cause than Ibrahimovic managed through the first three months of the 2016-17 campaign, with the Belgian having showcased his mobility and willingness to work across the front line.

He has managed three assists so far, while his predecessor in the No. 9 shirt did not manage a single one.

Ibrahimovic did, however, create 15 chances for others, compared to Lukaku’s haul of 14, so maybe the veteran frontman could argue that he was let down by those around him, with his numbers dipping due to the inability of team-mates to finish rather than his failure to create.


INVOLVEMENT


Romelu Lukaku Zlatan Ibrahimovic passing stats

Whether it is down to having played as more of a target man or United operating more direct last season, Ibrahimovic saw considerably more of the ball during his early days at Old Trafford than Lukaku has done.

The 36-year-old frontman took in 607 Premier League touches through 11 outings, compared to just 365 for his soon-to-be team-mate.

Ibrahimovic’s passing accuracy (78.08) is also markedly better than Lukaku’s (67.86), and he tops the Belgian in terms of duels won (53 to 47), which suggests that he will have an important role to play once back to full fitness as he fares better in holding the ball up and bringing others into play – which should allow the likes of Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Co. to flourish around him.


WHAT THEY SAY


Jose Mourinho Zlatan Ibrahimovic Manchester United return

Lukaku on Ibrahimovic to ESPN: “He was the main guy at Manchester United, and he's a guy I really look up to and who I learn from a lot because we share the same agent. Here and there he sends a bit of advice to me, and it helps me improve. But I'm Romelu Lukaku - I'm not Zlatan Ibrahimovic. I will fill up the striker position in my way, but I know I have to work really hard and deliver more than I've done before."

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Ibrahimovic on Lukaku to ESPN: “I’m happy he came. The team is much stronger than last season. We lost [Wayne] Rooney, who is a legend at the club, but we bought three new players. With these three new players the team is stronger. Signing Lukaku makes us even stronger because he has different qualities from me as a striker and from Rashford as a striker. He’s a powerful guy and he will bring some extra quality in the game.”

Mourinho on pairing Lukaku and Ibrahimovic: “I see Zlatan as important for the team. I just say that my squad is better for sure, he is one more option, he is one more striker, he is one more experienced player, he is one more player that can play nine or 10, that can play double strikers or no, there are lots of matches to play.”


THE NUMBERS THROUGH 11 PL GAMES


Premier League figures Lukaku Ibrahimovic
Goals 7 6
Goals headed 1 1
Goals outside box 0 2
Goals inside box 7 4
Penalties taken 1 1
Penalties scored 0 1
Hit woodwork 1 1
Shot accuracy 62.07 51.16
Conversion rate 24.14 13.95
Big chance conversion 58.33 20
Assists 3 0
Chances created 14 15
Duels won 47 53
Touches 365 607
Passing accuracy 67.86 78.08
Minutes played 990 990

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