21-year-old Marcus Rashford. 17-year-old Mason Greenwood. That’s it.
Those are all the true strikers on the Manchester United first team.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had no choice but to admit the club is thin in the frontman department, ahead of Manchester United’s clash with Southampton at St. Mary’s. “We are one down, to be fair, but we just didn’t find the right one,” the Red Devils manager said in his pre-match press conference. “We didn’t find the answer that we wanted.”
Solskjaer is completely, unequivocally right. And yet, his words are also utterly baffling.
Manchester United did the unthinkable this summer – they sold two valuable attacking players without identifying a replacement. Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez were both offloaded to Inter Milan, the latter of which on a loan deal that did not include an option to buy.
Both players offloaded seemed on their way out. Lukaku had struggled to make his mark at Old Trafford with 28 goals in 66 Premier League games, and leaking valuable team training data proved an unmistakeable last straw. Sanchez flopped mightily since arriving from Arsenal, and his stumbles were compounded exponentially by gargantuan wages that turned the club’s structure upside down and unsettled others like David De Gea, making it monumentally more difficult to sign important players to necessary contract extensions. There’s no debating the players were on the chopping block, and rightfully so, in a vacuum.
But soccer is not played in a vacuum. Sanchez showed his worth this summer at the Copa America, proving his immense talent need only be unlocked. Lukaku scored in his Inter debut, and his massive $74 million price tag proves there is plenty to value in the towering Belgian’s game. While they’re clearly not the best of options at Old Trafford, they’re certainly better than…well…nothing.
The purge, somehow, was not followed by a corresponding move for replacements – no reinforcements arrived. This isn’t about reinvesting money – Manchester United has more cash than nearly any club on the face of the Earth. This is about plain old addition and subtraction. You subtract two struggling but capable members of the squad and add zero, and the numbers don’t lie.
“We are creating but of course you are always looking for someone to improve us and we were looking,” Solskjaer said. “It’s about taking the chances. We have created enough in the first three games to have nine points so we have to be more clinical, we have to work on the last pass, the last finish, but we have created enough chances to win – and maybe score penalties.”
You know whose job it is to finish chances? A striker! Blimey, what a revelation!
There are options should Manchester United find itself breaking glass in case of emergency. Anthony Martial can play up front, but is best out on the left wing. Jesse Lingard is the same on the opposite. But the other attacking options in Juan Mata, Daniel James, and Andreas Pereira are all incapable of that fill-in role, and that leaves the boss man criminally undermanned.
Whether the blame falls on Ed Woodward, Solskjaer, or a combination of both is irrelevant. The club simply failed to balance a simple numbers game, and the excuses are starting to flow. Solskjaer attempted to write this off by claiming good enough players didn’t magically appear at his door, as if they should be lining to play Europa League football at the Theater of Dreams.
Yet again, Manchester United finds itself felled by another self-inflicted wound, a worrying trend at Old Trafford of late. This season, if the goals don’t flow, the Manchester United heirarchy may once again be a