Ahead of a busy period between now and the 13th November, the date of the club’s final game before the World Cup, Manchester United are set to play ten games, mostly adopting that rigorous Thursday-Sunday schedule.
With Anthony Martial having just picked up another injury and potentially facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines, some fans worry that the Red Devils run the risk of being short in the attack, not just in terms of quantity, but also in terms of quality.
Erik ten Hag has opted to use a 4-2-3-1 during his time in the Old Trafford hotseat so far, which means that when talking about the attack it tends to include the right wing, left wing and striker positions.
Many would agree that it is wise to have at least two players to cover each attacking position in a squad, an idea that applies to any position on the pitch, really.
This can mean players that are utilised in a given position can be rotated based on fitness, form, or perhaps even to use different tactics.
United have got attacking talent that could be divided into the more senior, experienced players, as well as the younger and more inexperienced ones. Within these categories, you have Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Antony and Cristiano Ronaldo as the senior forwards who are fit, with Anthony Elanga, Alejandro Garnacho, Facundo Pellistri as the novices taking up the bench spots so far under Ten Hag.
Of course, you can delve deeper into the likes of Shola Shoretire, Joe Hugill and Charlie McNeil who will occasionally get featured in the matchday squad and will probably clock up some minutes, but you would not consider these lads to be potential first teamers come the end of the campaign, sheerly down to their age and what is ahead of them in the pecking order.
That means that across three positions in the attack, United only have four senior players for the foreseeable future (five at a stretch with Elanga), so there could certainly be a dilemma on the cards should one of those men get injured or lose form…
Right wingEmbed from Getty Images
On the right flank, it seems that Antony has made that position his own. The Brazilian became the first player in the club’s history to score in his first three Premier League games on Sunday following his strike at Goodison Park, and the 22-year-old has adapted well to his new surroundings so far.
He will undoubtedly be Ten Hag’s man on the right wing for the upcoming games, yet fans will surely welcome some rotation if it helps Antony maintain his best form.
The first man to come to mind is Elanga. The Sweden international originally broke onto the scene playing off the left, but he has more often than not been deployed as a right winger, particularly during the Ralf Rangnick reign on a regular basis. Fans know what Elanga gives; he is fast and energetic which makes him useful for the ball over the top on the offensive, whilst also being useful for a high press when not in possession. He is certainly an honest player who will give his all.Embed from Getty Images
The flaw that comes with 20-year-old, however, is that he is yet to really develop the intelligence side to his game. He can match any United forward for pace and passion, yet there will be a drop off in relation to the football know-how for sure.
With that being said, you would expect that Elanga can play his part. The busy period includes games against Omonia Nicosia and Sheriff Tiraspol in Europe, as well as a Carabao Cup clash against Aston Villa. All these games are at Old Trafford and you would think those are the right sort of games for the youngster to develop at the moment. He is hardly a bad option off the bench when comfortably leading in a game, either.
The only other shout for the position is Pellistri, but it would be a surprise if the manager starts him any time soon. Expect to see the Uruguayan playmaker as a substitute in the Europa League, predominantly, if that. Shoretire seems unrealistic here and now, as much as supporters will want to see him get a chance.
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Out on the left, there is genuine competition for a starting spot between Rashford and Sancho. In fact, that is the only position of the attacking three where there genuinely seems to be a battle to be in the eleven.
And that is exactly what fans should want. It seems Rashford has that role for now, but that is not the end of the world for Sancho. The latter will know that he is likely going to be the first attacking option off the bench in matches, and will also know that as soon as Rashford or Antony fail to live up to the boss’ standards, he will have a chance to prove his worth once more.
Rashford seems to be much more involved in games when playing as a left winger; his only worthy asset as a striker is his pace, so unless he can run onto a long ball, he is largely null and void leading the line. Starting out wide allows the Englishman to run at players and get a shot away, and many feel it suits him better on the eye. The 24-year-old has eight goal contributions in nine appearances so far this campaign, and his most recent standout performance came off the left against Omonia in Cyprus where he got a double and an assist as a half-time substitute.
As was mentioned, Elanga did break onto the scene as a left winger, so his versatility could be of great use to Ten Hag as a back-up to Rashford and Sancho.Embed from Getty Images
Garnacho is a young player who fans are eager to see more of. Since putting in a man of the match showing in the FA Youth Cup Final last season, scoring twice in a 3-1 win, the Argentine has been limited to first team appearances, but he has shown great promise in the time he has had out on the left wing.
He is fast and direct, often wanting to take a man on and create for the striker, or even get a shot off himself. The 18-year-old would probably excel when he has space to run into, but he seems to have the footballing intelligence to perform when a defence is parked behind the ball.
Rashford and Sancho can occupy that spot with Elanga there as cover, but Garnacho is an exciting prospect that you would hope to see getting minutes in cup competitions, whether that be from the start or off the bench.
StrikerEmbed from Getty Images
Leading the line, Ten Hag does not have an awful lot to choose from at the moment. With Martial set to have another spell on the treatment table, Ronaldo is currently the only recognised first team striker at the manager’s disposal.
It hardly sounds too bad on the face of it- you could do a lot worse than a man with 700 career goals to put the ball in the back of the net. There is no guarantee that the Portugal international will remain fit, though, despite his extraordinary physique. Plus, he has only just bagged his first of the league season, so there is no assurances that he will be on top form between now and the World Cup.
Rashford is an option of course, but just as it was mentioned before, he is very one-dimensional as a striker, and it would be strange of the manager to move him up front to bench Ronaldo if he is playing well on the left wing. Antony and Sancho are not strikers by any means, either.
It is unrealistic to expect the manager to throw in McNeil or Hugill into the first team for anything longer than a fifteen-minute cameo given their age and inexperience. That means it is Ronaldo or nothing for the time being. The only alternative would be to play Rashford there to rotate, or maybe Martial comes back sooner than what fans fear.
You cannot help but feel like now is Ronaldo’s time to shine, though. With the World Cup fast approaching and there being a lack of competition for his spot, it seems like the perfect opportunity for him over the next ten games to silence his critics once more.