Before his recent purple patch in front of goal, Romelu Lukaku’s future at Old Trafford beyond this season was shrouded in uncertainty.
Question marks remain over whether undoubtedly talented Marcus Rashford can truly morph into a deadly centre-forward.
Despite this being his fourth season in England, critics and fans alike still wonder: Will Anthony Martial ever fully break out and transfer potential into prowess?
And as for Paul Pogba, despite being a World Cup winner, will he ever be the leading man his club need him to become in order to re-establish themselves on football’s grandest stages?
And yet, despite all four players enduring their difficulties and the constant transfer talk swirling around about the need to bolster their striking department in the summer, this Manchester United quartet have already broken a 23-year-old club record this season.
If there’s one statistic which stands out from the early Ole Gunnar Solskjaer era, it is that this is the first season four different players have scored 10+ league goals since the 1995/96 campaign.
That was 23 years ago and for it to occur now is utterly remarkable considering the chaos 2018/19 was embroiled in just three months ago.
United were being crushed under the weight of Jose Mourinho’s spineless tactics, archaic instincts and poisonous leadership. And his haphazard and often brutal man-management style was stymieing United’s most enterprising young talents.
Rashford’s future at his boyhood club was being plunged into uncertainty as Mourinho seemed intent on only deploying him out wide, ignoring his obvious promise as a central striker, with Lukaku his undisputed No1 frontman.
Despite this blind faith shown in him, a wretched run of 12 games without a goal set in for the 25-year-old who, under his champion Mourinho, had been struggling to replicate the 27-goal haul of his debut season in red.
Martial – still striving to live up to the hefty sum involved in delivering him from Monaco to Manchester in September 2015 – was said to be close to mutiny under Mourinho as talk of a summer exit hastened. He subsequently signed a new six-year deal in January.
Enough has already been said about the tempestuous relationship between Mourinho and Pogba – the £89m man who became Scott McTominay’s understudy with the Portuguese in charge.
And yet, following their goals in a pivotal 2-1 win over Watford on Saturday, Rashford and Martial moved into double figures for league goals this season. There, they join Lukaku, on 12, and Pogba, on 11. The last time the Red Devils possessed four players who did this, they ended the season by lifting the third of their 13 Premier League titles.
Tony Coton, Graeme Tomlinson, Pat McGibbon, Kevin Pilkington, Terry Cooke, Ben Thornley, John O’Kane and William Prunier (they’re real people) were members of that United squad nearly half a century ago and an unheralded 23-year-old Norwegian with the surname Solskjaer would join the club that summer.
Eric Cantona was top scorer with 14 league goals and 19 in total as the Red Devils did the double – adding a ninth FA Cup to the collection. Ryan Giggs and Andy Cole both netted 11 league goals and an emerging Paul Scholes – who enjoyed a breakout year the previous season – added 10.
Even in the historic 1998/99 season – where United were fired to unprecedented treble glory by the stunning four-pronged strikeforce of Cole, Solskjaer, Dwight Yorke and Teddy Sheringham, only three of them hit double figures – Yorke 29, Cole 24 and Solskjaer 18.
Sheringham scored one of the most important goals of the campaign and, indeed, United’s history with the equaliser against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final at the Camp Nou. But it was one of just five strikes the entire season and he had only two in 17 league appearances.
The most Premier League goals plundered by United in a season is 97, the year after the treble, in 1999/2000. Even then, only Yorke (20), Cole (19) and Solskjaer (12) reached double digits – Roy Keane did score 12 overall, though.
United’s striking department has often been criticised as underwhelming, especially this season. But as with most of Mourinho’s moans, Solskjaer is proving them to be mainly myth.
The awesome foursome have found the net a combined 43 times in the league and on 54 occasions in all competitions. That is just three short of Cantona, Giggs, Cole and Scholes’ goals from 95/96 in the league (46) and four shy of their overall haul (58).
There are still seven league games remaining for United and at least nine left in total (two legs of the Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona) for the players to surpass this feat.
Solskjaer was a predatory poacher of goals during his 11-year Red Devils tenure as a player – 126 in total during 366 appearances – so United’s attackers were always likely to benefit from the arrival of a former player who earned the nickname the ‘Baby-faced Assassin’ for his deadly finishing ability.
But Solskjaer’s positive energy, underrated tactical acumen, trademark beaming smile, an underlying steely-eyed, no-nonsense attitude – and of course bringing in Sir Alex Ferguson’s former assistant Mike Phelan, someone who knows the club even better than him – have all been key components to him steering a ship which seemed destined only to sink in December, back on a course to possible greatness.
Martial is the only player whose goals ratio was better under Mourinho, both Rashford and Pogba have scored more under Solskjaer – Pogba significantly so (eight under Solskjaer, three for Mourinho). Lukaku has six for both managers.
This, despite the fact the Belgian missed two weeks of Solskjaer’s reign with a foot injury. It must be stated, meanwhile, that Martial – who scored seven under Mourinho and three under Solskjaer – has been robbed of six weeks due to injuries and illness since late December.
With Solskjaer now in indefinite rather than interim charge, United will spend big in the summer in order to cut the gap to Manchester City and Liverpool. But now, having achieved such an historic feat and thriving under Solskjaer, a striker doesn’t seem such a necessity for the Norwegian.
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