Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera, Eric Bailly and Antonio Valencia were conspicuous by their absence as Manchester United trained on the eve of their Champions League quarter-final meeting with Barcelona.
A week after losing 2-1 at Wolves in the Premier League, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are preparing to bounce back when Barca visit Old Trafford for Wednesday’s first leg.
Herrera, Bailly and Valencia missed United’s last match through injury and look set to be unavailable once again, with the trio absent from the open part of the session at the Aon Training Complex.
Matic was an unused substitute at Wolves, but was another notable absentee on Tuesday morning.
Alexis Sanchez was back with the group after a knee injury picked up against Southampton five weeks ago, while Marcus Rashford was involved in the session after missing the trip to Molineux with an ankle complaint.
However, the 21-year-old’s fitness is unclear after starting the session doing individual work before joining in with the main warm-up.
Youngsters like Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood trained separately from the main group.
Chris Smalling is due to join manager Solskjaer for the pre-match press conference at Old Trafford at 2pm.
With a fond history between them a commitment was inevitable and the wedding was the stuff of dreams. But even a match made in heaven is not exempt from the work that goes into a marriage now that the honeymoon’s run its course and the first signs of conflict have taken shape.
Not only is Solskjaer having to steer United back on course following three defeats in their last four fixtures but recent speculation surrounding Romelu Lukaku‘s future has complicated matters.
The Belgian’s representative Federico Pastorello has revealed in an interview his client’s desire to play ‘in different countries’ stating, ‘the future is really very open’ and even citing Italy as a favourable destination.
The timing of this latest development does United no favours. A swing in results has coincided with Paul Pogba‘s future also being put in doubt following the Frenchman’s flattering comments on Real Madrid during the international break. Speculation was then intensified by Los Blancos boss Zinedine Zidane reciprocating with high praise for and admitted interest in his compatriot.
Solskjaer’s immediate handling of that situation has been good and you’d back his capacity to play down the new narrative with Lukaku as well but there’s certainly something brewing at Old Trafford.
Two Premier League defeats in quick succession shouldn’t initiate a panic. United were the better side on both occasions but missed chances and individual errors proved costly. However, there’s no denying that their top-four ambitious have suffered a huge setback as a result.
Could Lukaku be on his way out of Old Trafford?— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) April 5, 2019
"Teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona of course attract any champion so he sees also in La Liga one day."
Romelu Lukaku to discuss @ManUtd future in summer, says representative Federico Pastorello: https://t.co/7jSrX75DYr pic.twitter.com/6Ctu91m5cR
The Red Devils face a tall order in the Champions League as well having drawn Barcelona in the quarter-finals. A Herculean effort is required to secure their berth in Europe’s elite competition next season. The desire to jump ship from high profile players in their prime like Lukaku and Pogba should they fail in their endeavour wouldn’t be shocking.
Solskjaer is nothing if not positive though and as he contemplates the prospect of losing both players, the opportunity to spin it in his favour should become apparent.
Between them, Pogba and Lukaku have cost United nearly £200 million in transfer fees. The midfielder is contracted until 2021 and the striker until 2022 with United holding options to extend both deals by 12 months. The club have everything they need to be in control.
Solskjaer will nevertheless continue insisting that both players remain integral to the team and its long-term future, any other approach would be imprudent. In the current market though, Pogba and Lukaku could legitimately be sold at a profit, should it come to that while their wages would free up enormous funds.
The United boss has already revealed that plans for the summer transfer window are underway and should the club sell both stars, a potential overhaul would hand Solskjaer the opportunity to build his own team at an expedited pace.
That said, he may be reluctant to allow a talent like Pogba slip sway from the Red Devils … again. The Frenchman’s drive, skill and vision facilitates Solskjaer’s style of play and recruiting a midfielder of the same ilk would be a huge undertaking. Pogba’s form has been patchy of late but when he’s on song, his influence is immeasurable. The Norwegian will know that his best course of action with the playmaker is to keep him happy and inspire him to bigger performances.
45 - Since his debut for Manchester United in February 2016, Marcus Rashford has scored 45 goals for the club in all competitions, more than any other player. Local. #MUNWAT pic.twitter.com/IDO8Xj6jCF— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 30, 2019
Lukaku on the other hand is not quite so intrinsic to Solskjaer’s system. He’s an undeniably brilliant talent and has proved more than useful under the new regime but he’s hardly indispensable. He’s deceptively quick for a burly number nine and is capable of real quality but despite his price tag and goal-scoring record, Marcus Rashford has pipped him as the preferred choice.
The 21-year-old embodies the pace, aggression, relentless running and skill Solskjaer desires in attack. Anthony Martial has also come along under Solskjaer and can lead the line while an exciting talent in Mason Greenwood is knocking on the door of the first team. In an ideal world, Solskjaer would have no use for a striker like Lukaku who is effectively an expensive plan B in this new era.
He may be the team’s leading scorer in the Premier League with 12 goals to his name but he’s also been one of the worst finishers in the division. Despite ranking 30th for shots (52) this season, Lukaku is fifth for big chances missed (14). That doesn’t portray the 25-year-old in the best light.
Lukaku’s representative may be attempting to facilitate a move away or perhaps even negotiate a better deal in Manchester but he’s playing a dangerous game because all evidence suggests that Ole’s the one at the wheel.
For the very first time, Manchester United will be bringing its hugely popular fan event #ILOVEUNITED to Dubai on Sunday April 28.
Linking up passionate fans around the globe, supporters will be able to come together and support their team in one of the season’s most highly anticipated games, as United take on Chelsea at Old Trafford.
The event, hosted at Soho Beach DXB, Al Meydan Road, promises the same thrill and excitement of previous #ILOVEUNITED events held around the world. However, this time it is on a much bigger scale, as the event will also be connected digitally with fan viewing parties around the world, hosted by the club’s official supporters clubs and commercial partners, allowing some of the club’s 659 million followers to share their passion for the club with one another.
From United’s famous 1999 treble-winning team, club ambassadors Denis Irwin, Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke will be in Dubai meeting fans, sampling local culture and providing pre-match views and post-match analysis of the game.
Fans will also be able to enjoy live entertainment, giveaways and competitions, courtesy of the club’s commercial partners.
The #ILOVEUNITED event is free to attend and fans can apply online for tickets by visiting www.manutd.com/iloveunited no later than Wednesday, April 17.
Applications will then be entered into a ballot, with tickets issued at random. Successful applicants will be notified by email no later than Monday, April 22.
United’s group managing director, Richard Arnold, said: “Our international events have been a hugely successful over the past seven years, with thousands of fans attending each event. We expect the Dubai #ILOVEUNITED to be just as popular and look forward to bringing some of the excitement and buzz of Old Trafford to Dubai and to our supporters around the world.”