Manchester United are, in theory, blessed with a well-stocked forward line, with talented players who each bring something different to the table.
But thanks to form and injury, what should be a welcome problem of plenty for Jose Mourinho has turned into a nightmare, as the embattled manager is never completely confident in whatever front three he picks.
A record of four goals in 11 games, though not awful, isn’t good enough from Lukaku, who was expected to kick on this year after he followed up a debut season for United in which he had the highest-scoring domestic campaign of his career, with 27 goals, with a solid showing at the World Cup.
Lukaku missed a glorious chance at 0-0 in United’s loss to Tottenham, a fairly presentable one at 0-0 in the loss to Brighton, hit the post when his side were 1-0 down against West Ham (another loss), passed up a chance to give United a 2-0 lead in the Carabao Cup loss to Derby, and missed a free header in the 0-0 draw against Valencia. Where would United be if he’d taken those chances?
Paul Scholes: “I’m not sure you are ever going to win the league with a goal scorer like Lukaku.” [ESPN]— The Peoples Person (@PeoplesPerson_) October 17, 2018
Is he right? pic.twitter.com/cgyW0ouVrJ
Sanchez’s winner against Newcastle, capping off a comeback from 2-0 down, was only his fourth goal for United since joining in January. Much was expected when the club signed him from Arsenal, but that sort of return from 25 appearances shows just how far off he’s been from delivering.
The Chilean is supposedly chafing at Mourinho’s defensive tactics, much like his other attackers, but that doesn’t explain how poor he’s been. Sanchez’s displays have been a collection of misplaced passes and being easily dispossessed. The goal against Newcastle may be exactly what he needed to kick-start his United career, but it hasn’t been a productive one so far.
Usain Bolt bagged a brace on his first start for Central Coast Mariners! ⚡️👀— Soccer AM (@SoccerAM) October 12, 2018
Goals in 2018/19:
Usain Bolt 2️⃣
Alexis Sanchez 1️⃣ pic.twitter.com/62rwIPZe1P
Rashford has put in several good displays this season. Unfortunately for United, they’ve all come in an England shirt.
The youngster’s form for United hasn’t been terrible, but he also hasn’t had a truly good performance for his club side since last season’s 2-1 win over Liverpool, where he got both goals. He’s only scored two other goals for United in 2018. Rashford’s energy and defensive effort will always earn Mourinho’s approval, but he’s still falling short from an attacking perspective – and not all of that can be blamed on the manager.
Rashford scores against De Gea 👀 pic.twitter.com/ibzCbcvQAk— UnitedReview (@TheUtdReview) October 15, 2018
Martial had seemingly fallen out of favour with Mourinho, whose patience was being tested by a player who doesn’t play to full potential often enough.
One of the knocks on Martial, that he doesn’t put in enough effort defensively, is actually a tad harsh, as the Frenchman has improved that aspect of his game, but he’s disappointed up front. Part of that can be blamed on the arrival of Sanchez, as the youngster was in good form before being supplanted by the new signing, but since then, he’s not made a great case for himself.
However, he scored the equaliser in United’s comeback against Newcastle, so right now might be the perfect time to give him a run in the side.
Lingard’s season has been hampered by an injury, as well as fatigue from his World Cup exertions over the summer. He’s looked short of his best when he has played, and he hasn’t featured for the club since the Carabao Cup loss to Derby at the end of September.
Thus, it’s hard to gauge his form, though the stats don’t paint him in glory. If he was carrying a niggle from the summer, or playing without being fully match fit after a shortened pre-season, it would explain his lacklustre displays. In all likelihood, when he does recover full fitness, he’ll be a valuable addition to the squad.
Mata was dropped after being hauled off at halftime during the Brighton debacle, and there’s always been a sense that he’s not an ideal Jose Mourinho player, even though he’s survived for two seasons under the manager despite their history from their Chelsea days, when Mourinho sold him six months after taking over the club.
The Spaniard’s lack of pace goes against him, especially in a side designed to play on the counter and have its attackers chase back in defence.
However, his defensive work rate has improved beyond measure since joining United in 2014, and he’s often been the club’s best option on the right wing. Mata’s ability from free-kicks is another point in his favour, and he sent a reminder by kick-starting that comeback against Newcastle with another lovely strike.
With six players who, if in top form, could all easily be part of a lethal strike force, Mourinho must be wondering what’s holding them back. While he can expect growing pains from the likes of Rashford and Martial, he’s entitled to expect, and demand, more of players like Lukaku and Sanchez.
At the moment it seems like Lukaku is undroppable. Everyone else is not, though Lingard is likely to be first-choice once he returns from injury, even if that may need a formation change as Mourinho likes playing the Englishman in a No 10 role.
But Mata’s status as the club’s best-performing right-winger must also beg the question, how good would he, and the team, be if the Spaniard were played in his best role?
It might leave United slightly vulnerable defensively as Paul Pogba would also keep bombing forward from midfield, leaving only one midfielder to protect the defence. But Mourinho could counteract that by picking defensively diligent wide players.
An attacking four of Rashford, Mata, Lingard, and Lukaku could unlock this team’s potential. Each of Rashford, Mata, and Lingard is capable of playing anywhere across the three behind the striker, making for a fluid, deadly trio.
For now, Sanchez would miss out based on current form, while Martial’s defensive work rate needs to improve even further to fully earn Mourinho’s trust. The duo would be lethal options to have off the bench, as they showed against Newcastle two weeks ago.
Would Mourinho be brave enough to try this on Saturday, in a crucial away game against one of the league’s best sides? Probably not. But a 4-2-3-1 with Rashford and Lingard out wide and Mata through the middle behind Lukaku could take this team to new attacking heights.
Know more about Sport360 Application