Manchester United will return to the UEFA Champions League group stage for the first time since 2014 on Tuesday, but their captain and talisman Wayne Rooney will not be around.
After suffering a hamstring injury ahead of United’s 3-1 derby win over Liverpool on Saturday — Rooney missed that clash at Old Trafford — he has not been named in United’s squad for the trip to the Netherlands.
The match against reigning Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven will see Memphis Depay return to his old club, plus manager Louis Van Gaal will return to his homeland as the Red Devils secured their spot in the 2015-16 group stage by beating Club Brugge 7-1 on aggregate in the two-legged playoff.
United have been handed a fairly favorable list of opponents in Group B, as they also face CSKA Moscow and Wolfsburg.
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Van Gaal’s main aim when taking charge at Old Trafford in 2014 was to guide United back to the promised land of the UCL, and he did that last season as they finished fourth in the PL and then negotiated a playoff with Brugge in August. Now they’re back, but without Rooney, what options does he have up front?
On Saturday he started with Marouane Fellaini up top as a target forward and praised the Belgian, who usually plays in central midfield, after his performance. If Fellaini doesn’t start up top, he still has a few more options as Memphis Depay, who was taken off at half time against Liverpool, could start centrally, while new $55 million signing Anthony Martial could make his first start. Martial, 19, made the perfect start to his United career on Saturday as he jumped off the bench and scored a stunning solo goal in the dying stages of the win against Liverpool to make it 3-1. There is a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Martial after he became the most-expensive teenager in world soccer when United signed him from AS Monaco on transfer deadline day, so perhaps LVG will keep him out of the spotlight, for now. Another option is young academy forward James Wilson, who was sat in the stands on Saturday but has traveled to Eindhoven.
With Rooney failing to score for United through their opening four PL games of the season, many had questioned his importance to the Red Devils. Without him against PSV on Tuesday, many will be worried whether or not United can negotiate a tricky away trip in his absence.