Manchester United manager José Mourinho has confirmed that veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimović is in "no condition" to start a game for The Red Devils, with the Swede named on the bench for Wednesday's clash with Basel.
Useful off the bench
The return of Ibrahimović has been a long time coming for United fans. The Swede played a crucial role in their three trophies last season, having joined from Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer in the previous summer.
However, there were concerns that he would not be seen in a United shirt again following a serious knee injury in April and being released following the end of his one-year contract, but that failed to last long as he signed a new one-year deal with the club in the summer to continue his recovery.
Many predicted that he wouldn't return until December with the clash with Arsenal been ringed as the glorious return of Zlatan, but Mourinho surprised many as he made a cameo appearance in Saturday's 4-1 win over Newcastle. Paul Pogba also returned from a long-term injury.
The 36-year-old travelled with the squad to Switzerland ahead of their penultimate clash in the group stages of the Champions League, but Mourinho stated that he will have to come off the bench in the St. Jakob-Park.
"Zlatan goes on the bench tomorrow," Mourinho confirmed in his pre-match press conference. "He needs to play and he is useful for us."
"If we are in a winning position, like we were against Newcastle," the coach stated. "We need him on the pitch, because he keeps the ball, he keeps possession."
"He drops into areas where he gives stability to the team," he proclaimed on the Swede's abilities. "If the team is not winning, his presence on the pitch will be important and it will be positive for him to play with (Romelu) Lukaku."
"Normally, he is going to play, and I would say it will be a little bit more comfortable for him to play a bit more than he did the last match," Mourinho added. "Instead of 15 [minutes], I would say 20, 25. But [he is in] no condition to start."
Give him no choice but to pick me
Mourinho heads to the continent with some weaknesses. In particular defender Phil Jones, who was forced out with injury in England's recent friendly with Brazil, however, it was surprising to see just the one United defender in Gareth Southgate's side with Chris Smalling been omitted from the squad.
Smalling has been excellent for Mourinho's side thus far playing every minute of United's last ten minutes, which included the second goal in Saturday's win over The Magpies.
Despite that Southgate decided against picking him for an ultimately weak squad for the draws against Germany and the Brazilian's, there are a only few months to impress ahead of World Cup in Russia this Summer but Smalling stated that he will be looking to give Southgate "no choice" but to pick him.
“I was surprised," Smalling admitted to the gathered press in Basel. "But you don’t play for one of the biggest clubs in the world for as long as I have and win every trophy bar the Champions League without being able to do everything a top defender needs to do, be it playing or defending.”
“Ultimately it’s your club form that decides whether you play at a World Cup," the 27-year-old stated. "Because there aren’t many England games throughout the season."
"“While I’m playing regularly and part of a very successful team," the defender proclaimed. "That should show come the summer."
"If my season carries on like this and we have a successful season and our team continues to concede very few goals," Smalling concluded. "Then I give him maybe no choice in the summer but to pick me."