Manchester United’s injury crisis could be a bad one but look at the opportunities for others…

Manchester United could be without ten players when they face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Wednesday evening in the Premier League. This is a big blow for United and caretaker manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Of course, United have been in this position before and they will again. Injuries are something every team has to contend with at some stage of the season, some more than others though. On the other hand, injuries give a certain opportunity to other players who are hungry to perform.

On Sunday afternoon, in the 0-0 draw with Liverpool, Solskjaer lost four players to injury; Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard (all hamstring) and Marcus Rashford (ankle). However, Rashford played the entire match with his ankle injury which was sustained in the first minute of the match. United lost Nemanja Matic (muscle) in training the day before the match and already had Anthony Martial (groin), Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo (both knocks), and Antonio Valencia (calf) on the sidelines.

“[Anthony] Martial is not going to be ready for this one either. We can’t risk it. Maybe Southampton but we are not going to risk another one. In hindsight, you could maybe say Jesse [Lingard] was eager, but he had ticked all the boxes in training, done the recovery work and rehab. Maybe it was a couple of days too early but then again it was Liverpool and he was desperate to be a part of it.”

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To add to this, Phil Jones (illness), who has endured more than 650 days of injury during his United career is also on the sidelines due to illness. Having this number of players on the sidelines is a massive blow for Solskjaer and the United squad but it is something that has to be endured. During the past few seasons, it is the defence that has suffered the most with injuries with Jones, Chris Smalling, Victor Lindelof, Marcus Rojo and Eric Bailly all suffering from spells on the sidelines, leaving the defence at barebones.

“We’ve not had a session yet, so I don’t think there are a lot of positives, no. I don’t know the list [of players] that’s supposed to be injured, Matteo [Darmian] trained the other day. I don’t think he’ll be ready. [Marcos] Rojo will be involved. Rashford we’re still waiting to see how his ankle is responding to the treatment, muscle injuries are too early to think about. That’s it.

“Phil [Jones] was ill one of the days last week, so he’s been out for a little while as well with an illness. Luckily at centre-back, there are quite a few fit ones, Victor [Lindelof], Chris [Smalling] and Eric [Bailly], the three of them are ready.”

The defence is pretty strong right now though with Diogo Dalot, Lindelof, Smalling, and Bailly fit and ready to play, also with a suggestion that Rojo could be involved, despite only training for around about a week. The main problems lie the midfield and attack which sees Martial, Rashford, Lingard, Mata, Herrera, and Matic on the sidelines at this moment in time, although there is a chance Rashford could feature against Palace, although that would be a big risk, considering what happened to Lingard on Sunday.

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Injuries are unfortunate but they are a factor in football. It may look like other teams have an easier challenge with injuries right now but they will all suffer at some point or another. Injuries are bad for the squad but they also allow players on the fringes of the first team, even talented youth players a chance to establish themselves. Back in the early to mid-1990s, United suffered many injuries and careers ending and it allowed the likes of Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, and David Beckham an opportunity.

This is similar to what could be happening now. Sunday saw Scott McTominay replace Matic in the team and hold his own, despite premature criticism on social media ahead of kick off. Andreas Pereira replaced Herrera in the match, he too gave his all and got stuck in with the job he was given, showing a glimpse of the player he could be. Fred, who has featured very little under Solskjaer, could be granted an opportunity to show his worth and it could also give the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez a chance to shine.

The one thing that will be good for United though, is the fact that Solskjaer has his eye on the youth and is willing to promote players to cover injuries, which give these talented players a glimpse of what is expected in the first team, also a chance to show what they can do in a first team environment. The players who seem to be given the opportunity right now are Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and James Garner, all of who have played for the first team before, Gomes last season and the season before, Chong and Garner this season.

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Solskjaer has suggested that Garner is a Michael Carrick-type of player, which will be a great confidence booster for the 17-year-old. He might be involved in the travelling squad to face Palace on Wednesday but it all depends on whether Fred is called up to the squad as to whether he occupies a place on the bench. He might not play a part in the team. Chong could feature from the start of the match, occupying a place on the right-wing, with Gomes, similar to Mata, playing in an attacking midfield position.

The Norwegian, who celebrated his 46th birthday on Tuesday, also suggested that Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, who have both been contending with a loss of form of late, could be tested together, which if it worked, could cause Solskjaer a headache, especially when the likes of Martial, Lingard and Rashford are all fit again. The Belgian and Chilean need to get back into the team as both are world-class players who need confidence and playing time to achieve the heights of their abilities once again. Solskjaer said:

“It is a chance for them to play to their potential. Reputation is one thing but their potential is high. The two of them are good mates, they link up well together, so this might be a chance for them two together to find some form and give us a selection headache for when everyone is fit again.”

Despite the negatives of injuries, there is a lot of positivity surrounding United right now. Ten players, if that is how many remain on the sidelines, is a big loss but seeing fringe players given an opportunity along with the talented youth prospects is going to be great for the future of United. The likes of Pereira, McTominay, Fred, Garner, Chong, and Gomes all deserve a chance to play just like every other player. Palace will be a tough task and lots will be asked of the players who face them, which will be a great experience.

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