United’s top scorer Lukaku had played every minute in the Premier League before suffering a head injury in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Southampton, while Ibrahimovic, just back from a lengthy lay-off, has suffered a recurrence of his knee problem.
With Lukaku due to miss at least two games, and Ibrahimovic out for a month, Press Association Sport assesses who Jose Mourinho could now select up top.
It was 20-year-old Rashford who Mourinho called for when Lukaku was forced off against Saints, and the England international seems the most likely candidate to be the focal point.
He has played there before but has often been preferred in a wider berth under Mourinho as the Portuguese likes his central striker to carry a physical presence.
With Mourinho admitting that Lukaku had been in need of a rest, this is Rashford’s chance to show his boss he can be a worthy replacement as a central striker.
Another wide forward that may be temporarily moved inside to cover the striker shortage.
Martial has been used almost exclusively on the left under both Louis van Gaal and Mourinho, even though he stressed he saw himself as a striker shortly after arriving at Old Trafford.
Like Rashford, he lacks the size and stature that Mourinho covets in his centre-forward.
As with Rashford, this could be Martial’s opportunity to further his claim to feature in a role he has said he prefers.
Mourinho is unlikely to call upon the Belgian at his old club Everton on New Year’s Day given he has been ruled out of the festive period through injury.
However, he could be an option beyond that, particularly if Lukaku misses the games with Stoke and Burnley too.
Fellaini has played as a support striker at Everton and has on occasion been thrown further forward as a Plan B for United in the latter stages of games.
He certainly carries a threat in the air yet lacks the movement that Rashford and Martial have.
A JANUARY BUY
Only this week Mourinho admitted he did not think United would buy anyone in the January transfer window.
However, that view may have changed following a four-game winless run and the injuries to his two leading forwards.
Ibrahimovic’s problem in particular is a real concern.
At 36 there are doubts about whether he can ever return to the level he was at last term and that could sway Mourinho into thinking he needs another alternative to Lukaku.
The Premier League gets under way in 2018 with five fixtures on New Year’s Day.
Here, Press Association Sport details what to look out for on a day when Liverpool and Manchester United are in action and more twists and turns are expected at the bottom.
Which game are you looking forward to the most?
Mourinho’s problems are mounting
It is almost as if the air was sucked out of Manchester United‘s league campaign by the December derby defeat to City.
Three successive draws have dropped them to third place and United were booed off after Saturday’s Old Trafford stalemate against Southampton.
With questions over substance and style, the problems are growing for manager Jose Mourinho and an awkward-looking trip to
Everton has been made more difficult by the loss of strike pair Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Rooney return is well-timed
But Rooney came on for the second half at Bournemouth on Saturday and there is every chance that he will start against former club Manchester United at Goodison Park.
Few might have imagined that Rooney would have as many Premier League goals as United’s top scorer (Lukaku) at the start of 2018, and a Rooney winner at Goodison would heap more misery on his former club.
Liverpool chasing second spot
It was not too long ago that Liverpool‘s credentials to make the top four were being questioned.
But the feel-good factor is sweeping around Anfield ahead of their first 2018 fixture at Burnley.
Record signing Virgil van Dijk was in the stands to watch their comeback victory over Leicester and the giant Dutchman will be a welcome addition to a suspect defence.
And with Mo Salah keeping up his amazing scoring streak, there is every possibility that Liverpool can overtake Chelsea and Manchester United and emerge the best of the rest behind champions-elect Manchester City.
Will Hughes gamble pay off?
Xherdan Shaqiri, Joe Allen, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Peter Crouch all dropped to the bench as Stoke were battered 5-0 at Stamford Bridge.
Hughes admitted a two-day fixture turnaround had forced his hand in selection, and he clearly prioritised the New Year’s Day visit of Newcastle.
But it was a call that did not sit easily as the Chelsea goals flew in – and now Hughes needs a victory like never before.
Cherries on the up
Bournemouth head into 2018 and along the south coast to Brighton with a spring in their step and the winds of fortune blowing their way.
After Callum Wilson’s controversial last-gasp equaliser secured a 3-3 draw against fellow strugglers West Ham, Ryan Fraser’s late deflected strike gave Bournemouth a first win in nine games against Everton.
The victory took Bournemouth out of the relegation zone and the delight on boss Eddie Howe’s face was evident as he spoke about the psychological pressure of being in the bottom three.
Draws against Leicester and Burnley either side of Christmas severely undermined United’s status as challengers to Manchester City but Saturday’s 0-0 shutout at home to Southampton means they are now sitting third in the standings.
The problems are racking up for manager Jose Mourinho, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s knee problem keeping him out for a month and Romelu Lukaku taken off on a stretcher after a nasty clash of heads with Wesley Hoedt.
United may also be expecting contact from the football Association after footage emerged of Ashley Young apparently elbowing Dusan Tadic in the stomach.
Everton await on New Year’s Day and Pogba has demanded better from his side, despite the short turnaround.
“We didn’t lose but we have to wake up, bounce back and get back to winning,” the Frenchman told MUTV.
“We drew again. Three draws we have to win, something has to change and we have to change to win. It’s only one day and then we have to play against Everton – that’s football. Tomorrow’s another day and we have to go out there and win.”
On the mid-match injury to 14-goal top-scorer Lukaku, Pogba said: “When we have Romelu, he makes it difficult for defenders and creates so much space as well. He’s a big miss for us but we have the team to fill the gap of Romelu.”
Medical staff took every precaution in treating a potentially concerning head injury, placing the Belgian on a stretcher and fitting an oxygen mask.
By full-time Mourinho was confident the worst-case scenarios had been ruled out and was instead predicting a two-match lay-off for the forward.
As for Young, who has been one of United’s most consistent performers this term, the possibility of a three-match ban lingers.
That is the tariff handed to Burnley defender James Tarkowski earlier this month after he admitted a charge of violent conduct for elbowing Brighton striker Glenn Murray.