It was not disrespectful to Manchester United’s squad when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted he was a striker short of requirements. That’s been the case since the start of the season. And the same could be said for a number of other positions in the squad.
Now, with the January transfer window soon closing, Ed Woodward has risked the futures of United’s most talented young players by failing to sign anyone.
Rashford injured and deep concerns remain now with no transfer activity
Marcus Rashford’s long-term injury only made more urgent the need for United to sign another striker. Erling Haaland was mentioned but, for a multitude of reasons, ended up at Borussia Dortmund. Other names have been fleetingly considered: Edinson Cavani, Paco Alcacer, Islam Slimani etc.
And so now, United are left with one genuine striker in the squad: 18-year-old Mason Greenwood.
Starting up front for the remainder of the season will be Anthony Martial, though, the 24-year-old who has often looked far more threatening from the left. Beyond that, United’s options involve the humiliating prospect of using Jesse Lingard or Andreas Pereira as a false nine.
Greenwood will have to play more than United would like, because of Woodward
Rashford has already suffered a serious injury, one that could have an impact on his long-term career. Greenwood is a great talent but one that needs a gentle entrance into the first team.
That’s what he has received so far but now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has two options. The first is to weaken United, as against Burnley in a 2-0 loss, by using Mata or Pereira as a winger. The second is to use Greenwood far more than he would like, and those overseeing his development wouldn’t be too pleased either.
Behind Martial or Greenwood, United are left with equally serious problems. Dan James has now made 30 appearances in his debut season for the club.
Many, including those who were responsible for signing the Welshman from Swansea City, expected James to make nearer 15-20 starts all season. His form has dipped and so has his confidence. Things that he made look easy at the start of the season are now rarely completed.
James is suffering from too many games and it won’t stop now
James’ issues won’t stop now. United have no other options. With Rashford out, Alexis Sanchez away on loan, Romelu Lukaku sold and Ashley sold, choices in that wide position are limited.
It’s Pereira, Mata, James, Greenwood, Chong or even Diogo Dalot. James is one of the best in that selection and so he may make 50 appearances over the course of the season, a number far too high.
And for these young attackers, including Martial, there is no senior striker to look up to. Zlatan Ibrahimovic fulfilled such a role and perhaps Romelu Lukaku did as well.
But where is the Cavani or Mandzukic-like figure to offer advice and examples? An elite-level striker who can improve Rashford, Martial and Greenwood is not there. And when United have shown that they tend not to improve players very often, that is a deep concern.
Furthermore, the pressure on Solskjaer’s head as a result of this January inactivity, combined with summer failures, means United fans have seen far less of Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong, James Garner and Ethan Laird than they would have liked.
Understandably, Solskjaer is beginning to become selfish. He’s left out the ‘riskier’ young players in favour of established pros who he expects won’t make him lose his job.
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