The striker situation at Manchester United

Old Trafford

Due to summer transfers, promising young players and Jose Mourinho’s insistence not to play Wayne Rooney as a midfielder, the Portuguese manager is subsequently left with an issue – who will start as Manchester United’s strikers next season? The places in the starting line-up are likely to be shared between the four main contenders – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, and Rooney. Sadly, though, at least one of these world class strikers will end up sitting on the bench as Mourinho has tended to use two or three strikers in the past. Each striker has the quality to start each week, but with so many strikers at the club, Mourinho will need to choose who he believes to be the best.

Anthony Martial was unquestionably underused by France at Euro 2016 making just three appearances; he will be hoping that United won’t be making the same mistake next season. The 20-year-old has already scored 17 goals from 49 games in a United shirt and looks incredibly comfortable on the ball with a huge amount of confidence and pace. For a young player, this is promising. What had appeared to be a panic buy in the closing moments of last season’s transfer window has become one of Louis van Gaal’s best contributions as manager of Manchester United. Even though Mourinho will be aware of Martial’s ability, Martial will still need to fight for his place in the starting eleven considering the depth of talent United have up front.

For the vast majority of his career, Wayne Rooney played as a striker. Throughout van Gaal’s time as manager, Rooney gradually dropped into a midfield role. His instinctive goal scoring ability ended up being wasted. Mourinho is well aware of this; hence he stated that he never wants to see Rooney playing in midfield again – posing the issue of where the United and England captain will play. As the club’s captain, it would be expected for him to appear in the majority of fixtures next season and with Mourinho in charge, Rooney might be able to replicate the form in front of goal that he had under Sir Alex Ferguson’s managerial reign in which he averaged scoring once every two games.

In recent years, though, Rooney has shown an ability to create opportunities too and has a good passing range, but with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and so many others playing in attacking midfield roles, Rooney may struggle to find his way into one of these positions despite his ability. Mourinho has always admired Rooney’s talent, having previously had the intent to buy the 30-year-old. Considering this and the fact that the Englishman approaches Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time goalscoring record, Rooney is unlikely to be forgotten about at Old Trafford and will still be important to the team.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has experience, skill and a habit of scoring goals. The former Swedish international was bought by and reunited with Jose Mourinho who worked with him at Inter Milan so it would be expected that the 34-year-old will be featured in quite a few matches next season. He will also be useful for younger players, in particular, Marcus Rashford, to learn from as in his career Ibrahimovic has scored over 400 goals for club and country. Last season he averaged almost one goal per game, scoring 50 times from 51 appearances showing no signs of a player in his mid-30’s. It would be ridiculous if Ibrahimovic was to not be starting most weeks as he appears to have improved as he has aged and now looks to be at his best.

When Marcus Rashford first appeared after an Anthony Martial injury, many fans were sceptical of the decision. However, it was injury that benefitted the 18-year-old and United’s season. With eight goals from 18 games and a subsequent England call-up for the Euros, Rashford has become one of the best young players in the Premier League and seems to have the correct attitude to continue improving.

United are also blessed with some other talented young strikers too – James Wilson and Will Keane most notably. Keane’s injury last season thankfully allowed Marcus Rashford to get a chance in the first team. The 23-year-old must prove himself to Mourinho soon though if he wishes to remain a Manchester United player. With him being three years older than Martial and Wilson and five years older than Rashford, age is no longer giving him an advantage, but now a disadvantage. Despite scoring against Wigan Athletic in the pre-season friendly, overall his performance in the match was substandard, but despite this, the Englishman found his way onto the plane to China for the pre-season tour – perhaps Mourinho is giving him a second chance.

Back in 2014, under the temporary management of Ryan Giggs, James Wilson made an impressive debut; scoring twice in a 3-1 win over Hull City in the penultimate match of the season. Unfortunately, since then, Wilson’s United career has failed to go anywhere. It has taken the Englishman 19 games to score the same number of goals that he managed in those 64 minutes on his debut. Therefore, it is no surprise that he has recently been linked with a loan move away from United to Fulham. Since returning from a brief spell on loan to Brighton and Hove Albion and after an unimpressive pre-season appearance against Wigan Athletic, Mourinho appears to have made his mind up by excluding Wilson from the pre-season tour squad. It appears as though Wilson is on the verge of leaving United. Fortunately for Wilson, at 20 years old, he is still young and is more likely to be loaned out than sold.

Overall, having so many strikers is rather beneficial for this United side. The competition for each place in the starting line-up will result in better performances from the strikers and United will almost certainly not face injury issues in this position. For the younger players such as Rashford, Wilson, Keane, and Martial, they can train and play alongside some of the best and most accomplished strikers in the world. So, although some players may play less, the overall quality of the strikers should improve.

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