There was an eerie mood disseminating around Old Trafford last night when Paul Pogba pulled up with a hamstring injury just a few minutes into the second half. The Frenchman was replaced by Marouane Fellaini in the 48th minute and Mourinho was keen to comfort his star man with hopes of better understanding his condition. The most expensive player in the world has been performing noticeably lackluster in recent weeks, which suggests fatigue was catching up with him. The box-to-box midfielder has made more appearances (41) than any other Manchester United player this season, starting in 40 of his 41 appearances. Another Summer purchase, Zlatan Ibrahimović, has been the second highest featuring player for United this season,
Another Summer purchase, Zlatan Ibrahimović, has been the second highest featuring player for United this season, starting in 37 of his 41 appearances. Despite quickly developing a strikingly positive chemistry between themselves, the pair have struggled in recent games. Ibrahimović has established a more comfortable role in the squad, coming deep instead of trying to pierce the front line as he did 10 years ago. Similarly, Pogba has had to stay deeper in a two-man midfield and has consequently been robbed of the ball when confronted by any real pressure. Understandably, however, Ibrahimović at 35 years old should not be starting in every potentially challenging game and Mourinho’s man-management of the world-class duo should be called into question.
After the 1-0 victory against Rostov, Mourinho confirmed the Frenchman would miss the away trip to Middlesbrough and the international break. Midfield partner Ander Herrera is still serving a suspension after his controversial sending off at Stamford Bridge. The Spaniard – who was recently selected in Spain’s squad – will miss the away trip to Middlesbrough as well as the return fixture after the international break, when United host West Bromwich Albion. Daley Blind also took a knock during the victory over Rostov, leaving Mourinho with a scarcity of midfield options. The most obvious and probable alternative pairing for Pogba and Herrera are Fellaini and Carrick, who have been well-utilised players throughout the season and have been praised by Mourinho on numerous occasions during his tenure thus far.
Nevertheless, Carrick, 35, is approaching the end of his illustrious Manchester United career and was taken out of the team earlier this season, as his age started to show in some of his performances. Fellaini, on the other hand, has endured a stop-start season and career in Manchester. After being rested for several games, Carrick will be confident in his abilities and will be relishing the opportunity to earn precious, diminishing game time. The midfield maestro can fill the £90 million void by protecting the back four and dictating play from the base of a midfield three, or with the help of a hard-working ball winner to fill the void left by Ander Herrera in a midfield two. The Belgian Giant has constantly proven to be very good at doing just one task on the pitch, as well as showing off his impressive chest control and aerial dominance. Nevertheless, he struggles immensely in controlling and dictating play from the base of midfield, which is as much of a concern as his natural clumsiness.
After the departure of Morgan Schneiderlin in January, Mourinho’s only other options to the previously stated are Bastian Schweinsteiger, Wayne Rooney, and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Schweinsteiger has suffered a horrid spell at Manchester United and has only started once this season and has appeared just three times as a substitute. It would come as a huge surprise to see him start any premier league fixture this season, though he looks set to be on the bench. Wayne Rooney’s situation at United is bleak and unfortunate, with his record-breaking strike the only real positive he can take from this season. Nevertheless, he will undoubtedly be above Schweinsteiger in the pecking order as Mourinho will become increasingly pressurised to make further statements on Rooney’s situation.
So, expect a few notable appearances. Timothy Fosu-Mensah, 19, has started just three times this season and used as a substitute just four times despite bursting onto the scene last season. Debuted by Louis van Gaal, Fosu-Mensah has displayed his versatility; playing as a center back, right back, left back, center defensive midfielder and right-wing back. Despite showing progress, the Dutch wonder kid has not appeared in a while and will only be recalled to the match day squad, unlikely to even appear. The Manchester United boss has little options in the coming weeks and will simply hope Paul Pogba has a swift recovery and that the international break causes no further damage.
Written by Faaris Johal