With reports emerging that Zlatan Ibrahimovic might leave Manchester United before the end of the season, should the club sign a new striker?

An exclusive report from Yahoo Sports has claimed Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimović could be set to leave the Old Trafford before the end of the season.

The 36-year old, who is currently out with an injury, will see his contract with Jose Mourinho’s side expire at the end of the season. And the report goes on to state that the former Paris Saint-Germain forward could look to leave the club much before that, if he decides to accept offers from Major League Soccer or the cash-rich Chinese Super League.

Ibrahimović was signed amidst much fanfare by Manchester United in the summer of 2016, on a free transfer, following his contract expiry at PSG. It was hailed as a massive coup, despite the player’s advancing age. And it all started in a picture-perfect manner for the giant Swede, as he went on to net the winner in the FA Community Shield game in his first competitive appearance to hand his new club a trophy – the first of Mourinho’s reign.

Ibrahimović went from strength to strength thereon, establishing himself as a key cog in Jose’s team. The talismanic forward played a huge role in helping Manchester United get their second trophy of the 2016/17 campaign, leading them to the EFL Cup triumph, with two goals in the 3-2 win over Southampton in the finals.

There were doubters and skeptics in plenty when Ibra arrived at the Old Trafford. He was too old, they said. Can’t keep up with the pace of the Premier League, they said. But, as he has done throughout his career, Ibrahimović had once again managed to quieten the naysayers.

So, when he was hit with a serious knee injury in the month of April last year, it came as quite a big blow for Manchester United. By that time, he had already made 46 appearances for the Red Devils across all competitions, scoring 28 goals and registering 10 assists.

It made sense that Manchester United would go on to dedicate their UEFA Europa League triumph to him, along with some of the other injured players. Zlatan’s contribution to United’s resurgence in Mourinho’s debut campaign was immense, no doubt.

But his future at the club was cast in doubt, given how long it takes for a player to recover and recuperate from Anterior Cruciate Ligament injuries. But not for Zlatan. While most expected him not to be ready until the new year, contrary to expectations the striker was fit and raring to go in the month of November, much ahead of schedule. And United duly handed him a new contract till the end of the season.

Just in his second appearance after his return, he found the back of the net. Zlatan had returned. United had their talisman back.

Or did they? Five games later, Ibrahimović was struck with another knee injury, which has ruled him out until the end of January. And now the reports of his exit will surely make United’s think-tank consider their plans for the January transfer window.

Should they be willing to take a leap of faith and stay with the current options at their disposal. Or should they invest in a new striker?

Zlatan’s absence will once again leave United heavily reliant on summer recruit Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian has had to bear the brunt of heavy workload since his move to the Old Trafford, which seems to have taken a toll on his performances of late.

His career with Manchester United was off to a flier, but in his last nine league games, Lukaku has managed to find the back of the net on just two occasions, in a total of ten strikes. There is no questioning his work ethic, the effort he puts in for the team, but when the goals dry up, the confidence of a striker does take a hit.

No better example for that, than Manchester United’s very own wonderkid Marcus Rashford. Few months ago, the 20-year old was unstoppable. He was banging in goals, crucial ones at that regularly, scoring on his debut in every major competition, the forward was living a dream. Fast forward to the midpoint 2017/18 campaign, his magic has been on a serious wane.

The England international has managed just four goals in 22 Premier League appearances this term, only two of which have come in his last 18 league games – those are not the numbers one would associate with a player who had been tipped as the next big thing in the world of football.

There is abundance of talent within him, no doubt there. We have all seen what he can do when he is on song, but the matter of the fact is that he has not been delivering this season as expected. And the major reason for this rut is the player seems to be suffering from a severe loss of confidence.

Having come through the Manchester United youth ranks as an out and out centre-forward, Rashford seems to be taking time to adjust to his new role on the wings. Mourinho, this season, has fielded him in various positions in the attacking third, be it through the middle or on either flank. And this constant juggling of positions seems to have induced some sort of identity crisis for Rashford.

Then there is another young and bright forward in the shape of Anthony Martial, who seems to have sprung to life this campaign, after enduring a difficult spell in Mourinho’s first season. The 22-year old has already netted seven goals in the league and has three assists to his name, despite having played fewer minutes as compared to Rashford.

Martial has looked impressive both on the left-flank and when playing as the centre-forward. His finishing and goal-scoring instinct is something, at this point of time, is much better than that of Rashford, meaning he has a strong case to fight for the lone striker role with Lukaku. However, given his ability to run with the ball from deep and his dribbling skills at pace, Mourinho wouldn’t be faulted for sticking with him in the wider role.

Back to the same question then, should Manchester United bring in a new striker in January to cover for Ibrahimović’s absence and eventual departure?

Lukaku is a proven performer in the Premier League, but he too needs some degree of rest and United can’t risk burning out their star man and losing him to a serious injury. Martial does provide an option, but seems a much better fit playing on the wings at the moment.

Rashford, at the moment, isn’t living up to the billing. But, it would be in United’s best interests that they make their 20-year-old academy graduate as Lukaku’s no.2, refrain him from playing on the wings totally, until and unless absolutely necessary.

Rashford has shown on a number of occasions that he has what it takes to become Manchester United’s leading marksman in the coming years and the club should start building him and nurturing him in that role, rather than switching his positions on a regular basis.

And instead of going to invest heavily in a new centre-forward, the club should look to bring in a new winger. Someone, who can hug the touchlines and hit in crosses from the wide areas – something that none of the wide players in United’s rank at the moment don’t seem to enjoy doing.

What that would do is, increase Lukaku’s effectiveness, given his supreme aerial prowess and a constant supply line from out wide would mean more goals for the Belgian. Also, adding a new winger would mean Mourinho and United would not have to deploy Rashford out on the flanks as much, allowing the player to grow in his role as a striker.