On January 22nd of last year, Manchester United faced a resolute Burnley side at Old Trafford, just prior to the arrival of Portuguese playmaker Bruno Fernandes. Operating in the usual 4-2-3-1 system, United lined up that night with Juan Mata, Andreas Pereira and Daniel James behind central striker Anthony Martial, who had a major goalscoring burden on his shoulders, with the three men behind him summoning up a combined 4 Premier League goals in the 2019/20 campaign. The style of football was dismal in that Winter period; goals were not flowing as they should at Old Trafford, and many Reds fans were calling for the manager to be replaced.
Fast forward to September 19th of this year, the Red Devils walked out to play an in-form West Ham side with a diversity of attacking talent at the manager’s disposal. In the same 4-2-3-1 system, Cristiano Ronaldo- the leading top scorer in men’s football- lead the line, with a supporting act of Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood behind him. Englishmen Jadon Sancho and Jesse Lingard were called into action in the 73rd minute, with Anthony Martial and Juan Mata staying seated on this occasion. Still anticipating a comeback are Marcus Rashford and Edison Cavani, with the likes of Amad Diallo, Anthony Elanga and Hannibal Mejbri hungry for first-team minutes in the coming months. Even further down the pecking order are more academy prospects, three of which are Shola Shoretire, Joe Hugill and Charlie McNeill. Not to mention loanees Tahith Chong, Andreas Pereira and Facundo Pellestri, who are all scheduled to come back in the future.Embed from Getty Images
The contrast is grand between the state of the forward options in the January of last year compared to what it is now. Whilst fans relish in excitement over the inevitable goalscoring to come this campaign, United’s Norwegian boss will have a number of selection headaches to endure this season. Of course, not every single player mentioned above will have a long and successful career at the Theatre of Dreams, but it would only be fair if each and every one of them had their fair share of opportunities to stake a claim to be in the manager’s plans. It is likely, however, that this will not be the case. Taking the current academy players out of the equation, Solskjaer has 11 senior forward players to satisfy just 4 positions, and with a poor track record of being unable to rotate his squad, the manager could soon find himself falling on the foul side of some of his playing staff.
It seems like a couple of United’s forwards have a predictable next few months in store. It would be fair to argue that Ivorian winger Amad Diallo, despite impressing on his few appearances, will struggle to make the bench once he returns to full fitness. Many fans and pundits forget that this is a player who cost United nearly £40m, but it seems only a mass injury crisis could present him with the chance to play. Another player who will surely suffer from a lack of minutes is Spanish playmaker Juan Mata. The 33-year-old seems to reside on the bench nowadays, with his appearances likely to come in the Carabao Cup and FA Cup.
Not too long ago, it seemed destined that Jesse Lingard would exit Old Trafford on a permanent deal, following a sublime period at West Ham in the second half of the 2020/21 campaign where he bagged 9 league goals. Following the closure of the window, the 28-year-old is negotiating a new contract after bagging United’s winning goal vs West Ham. His chances at consistently dislodging star players are unlikely, but he is held in high esteem by Solskjaer, who is bound to give him more league minutes this season from the bench.Embed from Getty Images
Cristiano Ronaldo is a guaranteed starter, even at 36, sheerly down to his prestigious status in the all-time greats list. It would be bizarre if Marcus Rashford is benched once he returns to full fitness, having seemingly become an Ole-favourite in the Norwegian’s tenure. Bruno Fernandes is another who falls into that category, where fans and pundits alike are adamant he is in United’s best XI. Paul Pogba also fits that bill, but will likely drop into the midfield pivot to accommodate the return of Rashford.
That leaves Edison Cavani, Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho, all of whom have their own individual right to stake a claim to start. Cavani propelled the side forward last season, with the Uruguayan bagging 17 goals in his debut campaign, but may fall victim to the arrival of Ronaldo, who surely cannot afford to be sitting out matches as he solidifies his goal records. The starting right-winger is another interesting conundrum- does Ole opt for his new star winger Jadon Sancho, or his in-form academy star Mason Greenwood?
It would seem that not every attacker will be completely satisfied with their minutes come May 2022; one or two loan moves in the coming January window are more than likely. Despite uncertainty in this field, one thing that is for certain is that there are goals to be scored for Manchester United this season, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has to set his side up to play attacking football in the style of the ‘United Way’. Excuses are few and far between for the boss, which is only a good thing for aspiring Reds fans. Next up for United is West Ham in the Carabao Cup 3rd round, where rotation in the attack is anticipated.