MANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP) - Paul Pogba and long-term injury victim Zlatan Ibrahimovic will make their Manchester United returns against Newcastle United on Saturday, manager Jose Mourinho announced on Friday (Nov 17).
France midfielder Pogba has been out since September with a hamstring injury, while former Sweden striker Ibrahimovic has not played since damaging knee ligaments against Anderlecht in April.
Argentinian defender Marcos Rojo is also set to return, having suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury in the same Europa League game as Ibrahimovic.
“Zlatan, last season we played with him every minute almost until he was injured,” Mourinho told his weekly press conference at United’s training base west of Manchester.
“This season we learn how to play without him, but he’s a very important player for us.
“So welcome back and of course he is an incredible personality to fight such an important injury. We were all saying in 2017 he will be back, but one thing is Dec 31, 2017 and another thing is mid-November.
“He was, as an injured player, the same super professional he is when he’s fit. So fantastic work, same as Marcos.
“He had an important injury too, a big surgery. He played with the young boys (United’s Under-23s) on Wednesday and is fine. He is confident, is also ready.
“Paul is obviously not the same dimension of injury. It was not a surgical situation, but it was also bad and all three are back.”
News of the trio’s availability is a welcome fillip for Mourinho, who has seen his team fall eight points below Manchester City in the Premier League title race.
Ibrahimovic, 36, made a stunning impact on English football last season, top-scoring for United with 28 goals in 46 games before succumbing to his career-threatening injury.
Pogba, 24, was less conspicuously successful following his return to the club from Juventus in a then world-record £89.3 million (S$160 million) transfer.
But he made a strong start to the current campaign, with two goals and two assists in his first six appearances, and United have struggled for form in his absence.
“With Paul you can clearly see Manchester United this season before Paul’s injury and after Paul’s injury,” Mourinho said.
“There are qualities in our football that influence our approach in matches, with Pogba and without Pogba. That’s as simple as that.” Ibrahimovic left United when his contract expired at the end of last season, but signed a new one-year deal in August.
“He made a full recovery,” said Mourinho. “Now you cannot expect him to play 90 minutes or consecutive matches like he did all his career.
“Now he needs time to be back for his level, his fitness, his confidence, everything, his sharpness, but by the clinical point of view, it is fantastic to be ready.”
Ibrahimovic’s return raises the intriguing possibility of Mourinho selecting him alongside Romelu Lukaku, who has gone off the boil of late, going seven games without a goal.
Ibrahimovic talked up the prospect earlier this week and with Mourinho having occasionally used a two-striker configuration this season, he said he was open to deploying the pair in tandem.
“It is easy,” said Mourinho. “Good players can play together. It’s easy to play together.”
Mourinho paid tribute to Lukaku after the 24-year-old became Belgium’s all-time leading scorer, although three of his 31 goals were scored in a game that FIFA does not recognise as official.
“The record was Paul Van Himst’s, an iconic player for his country, and for Romelu to be so young and beating the record is fantastic,” said Mourinho.
“I know that in previous generations there were not so many friendlies and the players found it difficult to score.
“But Romelu is very young, he has 10 more years to play for his country and I can imagine the number of goals can be amazing.”